The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Future of IT...Here They Are.

I am blessed in many ways, but the thing I value most is to work with kids.  I'd like to say that doing so keeps me young but I can't...that would take a miracle on the level of loaves and fishes...

I do own a mirror or two.

Most of our work...work done by The HeliOS Project involves working with kids one-on-one.  We find children that do not have computers due to financial disadvantage
 then we build them one from donated or broken machines.  It is indeed gratifying work.  I have not had many chances to work with kids in large groups before...I mean working with them in a technical environment.

Until last week.

Skip Guenter, who is our Director of System Engineering lives in Hutto Texas....about 15 miles outside of Austin.  Pastor Paul Gravley of the Discovery United Methodist Church of Hutto approached Skip and asked him if we would be interested in doing a summer camp at their location.

Well yeah...ya think?

The idea was to gather 20 kids, ranging from 3rd to 5th grade and teach them how a computer works.  We were going to use perfectly good computers, take them apart, teach the kids how to identify the components, teach them the function of said components, put it back together and then install Linux on it.

Given it would even start after said exercise.

I had my doubts.  I personally felt that this age range was a bit young.  I just didn't think kids this age would sit for 4 days and participate in this program...much less understand what they were doing.

I was wrong....

We brought in 10 identical Dell computers with monitors, mice and keyboards and set up the stations so there would be two kids to a computer.  We took a collective deep breath and opened the doors.  22 kids flooded in.

What I believed to be probable mayhem stopped well short and developed into this great experience.

We started the program with an introduction to computers in general.  There was a short question and answer period to make sure everyone was understanding what we were going to do...and then we began doing it.

I have to admit surprise from the beginning.  Not only did these kids grasp the understanding of the parts and components of a computer, they were eager to understand what they did and how they worked.

And sure, we covered the basics...RAM, Video cards and chipsets, optical devices and hard drives, but we found that our class was so eager to learn that we shifted gears and drilled deeper into the machines.

We began talking about IDE vs SATA, 20 pin vs 24 pin ribbon cables,Molex connectors, power supply detail...

They wanted it all.

 I don't know how many of you have worked in a "teaching" environment but I sure learned a few things during Camp HeliOS. 

Keep them engaged or they will venture ahead of you.

A few things surprised me here.  First off, this was a first-come first-served camp.  That means that all the kids voluntarily signed up for this camp.  The second thing that surprised me was the number of girls that signed up.

Now wait, I know that statement smacks of sexism but given the top-heavy male numbers in IT, one would think that there is little to no interest in technical stuff in the female population.  I don't know if our little camp was an anomaly, but I can tell you that the number of girls in this camp was just short of 50 percent.

Another thing that surprised us was that we had few if any dropouts during the 4 days.

I have to attribute that to the great volunteers we had during Camp HeliOS.  Sam Woods, a long-time friend of the Blog of helios and The HeliOS Project volunteered his time to come in and help instruct these future geeks.  Pastor Paul and Sam Pritchett from the church helped greatly...and both being geeks at heart, they helped instruct as opposed to simply keeping massive bundles of energy contained.


 John Decker took the bulk of photos used here as well as many others and I want to thank him personally for his work.

I also want to give special recognition to a student aide during Camp HeliOS.  Madeline not only did many of the preparation tasks to get things ready, she also helped greatly in assisting the camp kids with questions they had. Thank you Madeline...you were more help than you know.

The first three days were devoted to disassembly, reassembly and then Linux installs.  To be honest, we scheduled this as a 4 day event because we thought kids this young would need that much time to complete and absorb the camp.


Wrong.

We ended up using the 4th day just to explore games available on Linux...and  guess which one was the favorite.


World of Goo.


Thanks 2d boy for the licenses.

Oh, and take another guess.  Guess who mastered the game twice as fast as the others?

Yep...the girls.


Bottom photos:  Pastor Paul talks about the importance of a cpu and cooling fan and explains how a fan shroud helps.

Ken troubleshoots a faulty USB connection.

Skip does some one-on-one about RAM and how it works for temporary storage...I think he tried to sneak in the North Bridge chip into the conversation as well.



 All-Righty Then

23 comments:

Nathan R. Hale said...

What a great project! So cool to see people doing stuff like this.

Amenditman said...

Sounds like a fantastic week to me.

Sorry I missed it.

Justin said...

Wow. This is amazing. Can you create some kind of template for this like you did with Linux Against Poverty? I'd love to set up both of these in my town.

Philios said...

This was one fantastic week. Thanks Ken and Skip for all you did!

-Pastor Paul Gravley
huttodiscovery.org

kozmcrae said...

What a wonderful way to empower those kids. I don't recall ever hearing of a total immersion into learning about computers for kids that way. It's always the operating system or a few applications. There's no creation or ownership of the process.

I hope others will pick up on this.

Gavin said...

It all starts with the hardware! Honestly, I know a lot of people in the world of IT who would benefit from a workshop like this, or maybe one centered around server hardware. If you only know software, it becomes your universal hammer!

Great workshop, Ken.

And I hope you never underestimate females of any age again! ;)

Blog of helios said...

@ Gavin,,,

I never underestimated the girls, simply given the top-heavy male population in the IT profession, one would think that the female disinterest in the field would start at a young age. That seems to be discredited, at least empirically.

h

Gavin said...

Female disinterestedness in scientific fields is systematically built into our societies, not our genes. Thankfully, that has slowly been changing for the last decade or so (we can expect the results to appear over the next generation) but the myth propagates.

I for one will be happy when more females eventually enter into the realm of IT. Perhaps they will bring with them a bit more sanity! (Not that I am expecting miracles here, just a bit more sanity.)

Denise Halliday said...

Ken, before anything else, thank you for taking part in your community at this level. It's not everyone who has the knowledge or the assets to do this. We need to expose our kids to the technical side of their lives, not spew out a generation of mouse wigglers.

Please thank your staff and volunteers for doing this. I know I cannot take time off of work to participate in efforts like this without taking vacation or sick time. I imagine the folks that helped you had to do so.

They should be applauded for their efforts, as should you.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful stuff. Just sheer wonderful.

There was another article that I was reading just a moment ago about a group of kids from Chelsea school (can't recall full name) and how they tackled ampache, installed it onto an appliance, created documentation and a bunch of crazy stuff like that.

I'm surprised though. Viva kids and their sponge-like minds! I'm glad to see they're able to utilize Linux to further their own understanding of computers.

Cheers to you folks, and your staff/volunteers for making such wonderful things happen.

renoX said...

I'm not surprised for the equal number of boy and girls: I remember that girls' interest in math is reduced when they become teenagers.

Interest in computer 'internals' follow probably the same curve..

Congratulations for your project anyway: I remember having much fun learning computers internals and BASIC when I was young.

Anonymous said...

This is really great. I've also worked with kids even younger (in preschool) and it's amazing at what they can grasp at that young of an age. I've introduced my kids to Linux (we use Fedora in our home) as well, and they love it. Recently we took a look at what games are included in the Fedora distribution, and after seeing it is in the hundreds, we started looking at them in more detail. Excellent stuff.

Don il said...

Hi Ken.

This reminds me of some experience I had some years ago.

Back when my son was seven and my daughter just one year, my neighbors asked me to teach their kids how to use their computers, instead of sending them to a summer camp. I agreed and the only condition was that they would have to bring their kids something for lunch, including ice cream or cake, so that they didn't feel like they were still at school.

So, next day I was suddenly surrounded by seven girls and five boys ranging from six to eleven years of age, and carrying with them all brands of home computers (Radio shack, Sinclair, Atari, Amiga).

Activities ranged from cleaning the machines, to bringing some articles from magazines or newspapers (the was still no internet) related to computers, to creating and printing images and even writing simple programs in basic.

During the ten or so days that the "course" lasted, I enjoyed the creativeness of the kids.

One of the things that surprised me the most, was that, while attending one of the parents which came to bring lunch, I could glance the girls and boys celebrating a meeting to try to solve a problem I had just introduced as our next topic, and that required some concepts we had not touched yet. When I returned to them, they had solved the problem and asked me for some additional functions they would need to write the program. I couldn't help but look at them as the professionals that now, twenty years later they became.

That was a very pleasant experience, specially for me. It helped me look at young people in a very different way.

Later, when I lectured for teenagers, I could very easily make friends with them and coach them to advance their careers.

Regarding gender, I have never seen a real difference between girls' and boys' technical skills.

I can understand and even feel your satisfaction.

Enjoy it for all it is worth.

Don il said...

Hi Ken.

This reminds me of some experience I had some years ago.

Back when my son was seven and my daughter just one year, my neighbors asked me to teach their kids how to use their computers, instead of sending them to a summer camp. I agreed and the only condition was that they would have to bring their kids something for lunch, including ice cream or cake, so that they didn't feel like they were still at school.

So, next day I was suddenly surrounded by seven girls and five boys ranging from six to eleven years of age, and carrying with them all brands of home computers (Radio shack, Sinclair, Atari, Amiga).

Activities ranged from cleaning the machines, to bringing some articles from magazines or newspapers (the was still no internet) related to computers, to creating and printing images and even writing simple programs in basic.

During the ten or so days that the "course" lasted, I enjoyed the creativeness of the kids.

One of the things that surprised me the most, was that, while attending one of the parents which came to bring lunch, I could glance the girls and boys celebrating a meeting to try to solve a problem I had just introduced as our next topic, and that required some concepts we had not touched yet. When I returned to them, they had solved the problem and asked me for some additional functions they would need to write the program. I couldn't help but look at them as the professionals that now, twenty years later they became.

That was a very pleasant experience, specially for me. It helped me look at young people in a very different way.

Later, when I lectured for teenagers, I could very easily make friends with them and coach them to advance their careers.

Regarding gender, I have never seen a real difference between girls' and boys' technical skills.

I can understand and even feel your satisfaction.

Enjoy it for all it is worth.

adamwill said...

Sounds like a great idea, and I think the age range is just right - I started poking around inside computers at the same age. Old ones my Dad no longer needed, of course. I only got to poke the new ones later. Or when he was out. :P

I'm always surprised that quite a lot of people you'd consider computer geeks don't actually know much about hardware at all, and wouldn't know how to build or modify a system. I think it's definitely something anyone interested in computers ought to know about.

Carl D said...

Great work! Although Dells are not exactly the ideal PCs to learn from :)

Blog of helios said...

Well, ya work with what ya got.

h

Colonel Panik said...

Ken is going to have to go back to driving a truck.
Just so he can carry all his Karma.

http://www.turnkeylinux.org/blog/gnu-high-school

Open Source people doing Open Source things:
Our old buddy Larry as in Larry the Free Software
Guy is doing the local farmers market there in
Felton, CA. The folks from Ubuntu-US-NM-Albuquerque did a gun and knife show not too long
ago, and had great response.
Just had a chance to visit with another Linux
friend in Albuq. NM who has a nifty cyber café
and computer repair shop. He is supporting a family of 6. And that my friends says it all.

Ken, when y'all get something like this up, give me
a call please.

Amenditman said...

@Gavin Software is a Universal Hammer ... in a world full of screws!

Gavin said...

adamwill - "I'm always surprised that quite a lot of people you'd consider computer geeks don't actually know much about hardware at all, and wouldn't know how to build or modify a system. I think it's definitely something anyone interested in computers ought to know about."

Yes, it is often quite ironic. Especially when you see non-Windows users buy computers that come with Windows and then do a wipe and install of, say, Fedora. Microsoft is all too happy to about this because, when it really comes down to it, they got paid! Compaq or HP or Dell or whatever paid for a license of Windows and built that into the cost of the computer. Never mind that the license is not being used. It was still bought.

In the sense of Microsoft's profit margins, it is far better for non-Windows users to build their own systems, buy computers without Windows in the first place, etc. I build all my own desktops and servers, regardless of if I am installing Windows or not. It provides me with ultimate authority over my systems and how I use them, from the motherboard to the application.


Amenditman - "Software is a Universal Hammer ... in a world full of screws!"

Haha! True, true.

I was once asked to trouble-shoot a relative's Windows machine that was exhibiting random errors. After having it "fixed" a number of times by some experts (and no doubt costing a couple hundred dollars in labor) it was still having problems. I checked it out, diagnosed a dying HDD within 10 minutes, and I was done!

This should have been a no-brainer for the experts since the computer was several years old - surely they had some HDD diagnostic software? I later found out it WAS a no-brainer for them and they advised my relative on a new HDD, new computer, etc. But they still took the money and did the work anyway, knowing full well it was not a fix at all.

I tend to look at faulty hardware as the ultimate cop-out. It immediately gets you off the hook as far as wrestling with software. After all, if the hardware does not work, there is no chance that the software will work! But the flip side is also true: knowing hardware well gives you an advantage over other people, and there are some who exploit that. It is therefore in everyone's best interests to learn and know as much as possible about hardware so that we can all help each other as much with hardware as with software.

Mayo Modeli said...

Dear editor, thanks a lot I beautiful and provide useful information. to inform children at a young age a good thing.

Computer support specialists said...

Learning the latest technology or learning learning anything about technology is second nature to kids. it's good to have projects like this.

Kids Software said...

Great Project. Nice that someone takes time for the kids. Children today grow with the pc. Since they have something ahead of the adults.