Computer Literacy Program – Class 1 – The Bit

November 11, 2009 at 11:36 pm 4 comments

For some time now the neighborhood kids have been coming over in the evenings to use some extra laptops to get on the Internet. My fiancé, Ryan, decided to start an official and structured computer literacy program. After roughly a year of planning and research, Ryan developed a curriculum of twelve classes and we have started a pilot run with twelve kids (Ages 9 -18) from our street.

Ryan will do more thorough posts about the curriculum, the activities, and the effectiveness of the program when all the classes are complete on These are just my own personal recaps and memories.

The first class was last week. Ryan lectured on the bit and binary code. He also discussed the byte, the kilobyte, the megabyte, the gigabyte and so on. As hands on exercises, the kids explored the file system and looked at the sizes of various files and the free space of their brand new hard drives. At this point, I became jealous– their laptops have considerably more space than mine! 🙂

Since this was the first class, I wasn’t sure what to expect about the kids’ engagement level, but Ryan did an excellent job keeping them involved. Ryan routinely asked questions and the kids would shout out their guesses.

After talking about bit and 1 being on and 0 being off, Ryan asked the kids to look over at their new laptops and find the bit on the computer. This activity reminded me of a Dan Brown novel! My whole programming career, I have encountered this button and never noticed the symbol right in front of my face.

The Power Switch – A Bit! 1 and 0! (Photo by Fox Fotography)

Any doubts I had about the kids’ interest was fully squelched when Ryan, aided by a HowToons cartoon (see below), taught them how to count in binary using their hands.

Count Like a Computer!

The kids got a kick out of this! The number four seemed to be particularly popular. 🙂 My favorite part involved a quiet kid in the back. Because of his silence, I had been trying to gauge his interest level. Then suddenly I spied him, with his hands very low near the keyboard, configuring his fingers to count to ten.

When I walked the kids back home that night after class, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the eleven more sessions to come!

P.S. Counting in binary has proven to have some staying power. On Saturday, four days after our first class, I took three girls up to Virginia Beach for an outing. And on the grassy hillside of Mount Trashmore, one started practicing her binary counting. The practice continued in the car and I coached the best I could through the rear view mirror. When we returned to Hunter Street, she proudly showed Ryan what she had rehearsed.

Entry filed under: Computer Literacy Program, Elizabeth City, Neighborhood Kids.

Surprises at the American Museum of Natural History Computer Literacy Program – Class 2 – Hardware

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Computer Literacy Program – Class 2 – Hardware « TGAW  |  November 12, 2009 at 5:02 am

    […] first class on The Bit was so busy and hectic, I didn’t get to take any pictures. During this second class on […]

  • 2. Sheer  |  November 21, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    One of my self tests when my brain has decided it doesn’t want to continue running me as a task, then condecends to let me boot again is to run through all the basic algorithms that I use daily.. if then else, switch case, and then I recite the powers of two to 65536, and count to 256 in binary.

    I remember the magic well, myself – I originally learned in BASIC, on a VIC-20 with 4K of RAM – but I remember how cool it was to poke a value into a register, get out the logic probe, and see that a line on the back of the machine had gone from low to high.

    While I admire enormously what you and Ryan are doing, I also wish you guys had some iron lying around so old that a regular old analog scope or logic probe would be fast enough for the kids to see the messages propagate down the bus – something so simple that the more advanced of them could honestly hope to dump its BASIC interpreter and understand the resulting bytecode. I know there’s no place in the world for the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 any more – but I feel like they were much more friendly learning machines than our current systems, which require surface mount soldering skills to modify, very expensive test equipment to trace the activities on the busses of, and a fair amount of hand waving to understand some of the intricate details. For example,. how does one explain wake on LAN? DMA? the 7 layer OSI model? You and I started in a world of RS-232, where every byte that came in the modem appeared on the screen. We networked our two computers together with a cable that swapped pins 2 and 3, and did little else. That’s *easy* to understand. What happens in a modern network.. is a little bit trickier. Yes, there’s still wires for transmit data and wires for receive data – and yes, a ethernet switch isn’t *that* complicated to understand, and neither is a MAC address, and neither is ARP, and neither is TCP and the three cornered handshake and routing and subnet masks and four-quad encoding and collision-based networking and WPA and web 2.0 and RISC in CISC’s clothing and SMP and NDIS and SMB and I could go on for a few hours here.. but there’s *so much*. I know, we learned it, so will they.. but we started from a much, much lower altitude. If we learned to fly a Cessna, these kids are starting out putting their hands on a 747.. I know they’ll succeed, probably go a lot further than we ever did.. but I still feel for them.

    It sounds like Ryan is very gifted at giving real world explanations that help form metaphors for what the machines are doing, and in today’s world, that’s a very good thing. As I’ve said before, you two are awesome and my hat is off to you both for what you’re doing, and I wish I had the balls, not to mention the lack of fear of other people. 😉

    /Codger mode off.

  • […] kids into computer literacy with the incentive of giving them laptops (See her posts for classes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12), and a delicate objective within that is to introduce them to […]


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