On Monday I had the opportunity to help host a group of 29 5th and 6th grade girls at the Google office in Fremont. The students were from Madrona Elementary School just outside Seattle. The visit was coordinated by techbridge as part of an on going program with the Highline School District.
The kids were a lot of fun. We started the day with an ice breaker activity that I fumbled on a bit. It turns out I don’t have a favorite celebrity to talk about with an 11-year-old.
After the ice breaker we took them on a tour of the office. I still feel like Google offices are really just grown up playgrounds (with desks) and it was great fun to see how excited the kids were by everything. I think they were most impressed by the Fro-Yo machines and oddly the tiny retro phone booths folks use for making phone calls. I expected them to be impressed that we get pizza for lunch every day and that we have two rooms dedicated to playing videos games. We got lucky and when we went by the maker space there was someone in there doing some 3-D printing who was happy to explain to the girls how laser cutters and 3-D printers work. I think a lot of kids get turned off because most software isn’t tangible so it doesn’t feel “real” so seeing that software can be used to make tangible things was awesome.
After lunch the kids heard from my colleague Kathy about her job and then we took them to lunch in the cafe. One girl kept saying “I hope they have kale, I really want kale.” The kids enjoyed lunch in the cafe and I had a fun time talking to them. They were shocked that I didn’t know who Nick Jonas was. I asked them what they wanted to do when they grew up and the kale loving girl said she wanted to be a “space architect”.
After lunch they had a workshop on binary numbers. I was dreading this since most 10 to 12-year-olds don’t really have a grasp on exponentiation. I also don’t really see how it is relevant to modern day programming. I use hex more than I use binary and I don’t use hex that often. The activity was from CS Unplugged and it went very well. The pedagogy was absolutely solid. Each girl made cards with 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16 dots. They then flipped the cards face up or face down to show if that bit was on or off. Some of the older girls figured things out quickly and didn’t need the cards after building a few numbers. Some of the girls needed the cards and had to count the dots to feel confident in their answers. Some girls made a second set of cards with numerals instead of dots. I was amazed that a couple slips of paper were all that was needed to make the activity accessible to kids with a huge range of ability.
For the very last part of the binary numbers workshop each girl took one card (one bit) and they stood in a row flipping their cards at the right time as we counted from 1 to 31. After they had counted up I started giving my group random numbers to form. When I gave them 19 the girl holding the one bit said “it is odd so my card is flipped forward”. That was my happy moment for the day. No one had taught her that she’d just extrapolated it from the activities we’d done. I went to another group that had 6 kids just in time to hear the girl holding the 32 say “being 32 is boring”. I then asked that group to make 56, 27, and 33 which they did after much conferring. Finally I asked them to make 63 and they said “We can’t make a number that big!” I responded “You can’t?” and then one girl said “It is all of us!” Those are the moments I love when I do these kinds of activities. It is so awesome to witness those light bulb moments.