Confronting the Digital Divide One Kid A Time

I like on the edge of a small, impoverished, underserved town* in a county southeast of Richmond. During a Halloween “trunk and treat” event at the local library, I met the local 4H coordinator for the county who came over to check out my Makey Makey screaming pumpkins and talking hat. I followed up because I have been looking for a way to connect with the kids in my town. It turns out that 4H has a coding curriculum that we could use as the basis for a SPIN (Special Interest) club, a short term group around a specific topic. I agreed to facilitate six sessions around STEM to be held at the town’s community center, which is housed in the former elementary school in the heart of some of the worst poverty.

While the 4H curriculum is good and provides “unplugged” activities that don’t require Internet and computer access, we are fortunate to have decent Internet access, my collection of Makey Makey, and a few laptops including a couple that I bring with me. I ended up creating my own curriculum to take advantage of that access.

During the first week, we experimented with circuits using copper tape and playdoh with batteries and leds. On Tuesday of this week, we spent our hour connecting the Makey Makey to Scratch and making simple switches. One of the five participants had experience with the Makey Makey. The others caught on quickly.

Today was the big day, at least in my mind, as I knew I only had an hour to get them hooked on Scratch. So, we dove in and made a simple game using Barb Ericson’s tutorial.  I had three incredibly motivated students who had zero experience with coding and Scratch. but were eager to make their game.

They played my sample game when they arrived so they had an idea of what they would be creating. We worked through each step, and they were also able to customize their games by choosing their own sprites and backdrops. We still have some work to do but you can see their games here:

One of the boys, the same one who had worked with the Makey Makey, was able to move forward more independently by following the slides in the printed packet so I could work closely with the other two who needed more direct support. By the end of an hour, all three had working games that kept score. Whew!

I’m worried that they didn’t really have to time to process what we were doing, and I want to take time next Tuesday to review the various pieces that we put together. We will make the games harder and add some sounds, I think.

I would *love* to integrate the Makey Makey by having them create game controllers with switches during the last meeting. I think the town mayor may be stopping by. She helped me connect with the community center director so I invited her to stop by to see what is happening.

This is a small, small step. Three boys who are living in the digital divide and deserve the same access and opportunities of other kids. If there is interest, I am committed to continuing our meetings to explore Scratch and other kinds of programming. At the least, I want to hold a Valentine’s Day Card workshop using this great template from**

*Use whatever adjective you like: our grocery store closed several years ago so our food sources include fast food, one or two restaurants, and a couple dollar type stores. No local access to fresh food including vegetables and meat. The closest full-service store is 8 miles away. It’s a long way for people who also don’t have access to their own or public transportation.

**The wonderful woman who serves as the on site director for the center came to me today asking about how she might add lights to flowers to Valentine’s Day.  I told her I would bring my kit of lights and batteries next week and we could figure out how to make it work!

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