Science Online 2010 and the Neighborhood Kids – Community and Role Models

January 19, 2010 at 9:27 pm 4 comments

As many of you know, Ryan and I live in a low income neighborhood in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. This past weekend, we traveled to Raleigh to attend Science Online 2010.  Multiple breakout sessions dealt with promoting diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and still other sessions addressed communicating to and engaging youth. Because of where we come from and our close interactions with the children in our neighborhood, we were drawn to those topics.  It’s not surprising that my time at the conference made me reflect back on my experiences back home on Hunter Street.

Community and Role Models
I found one of the most powerful and inspiring sessions to be Blogging the Future – The Use of Online Media in the Next Generation of Scientists. High school teacher Stacy Baker brought a number of her students to the conference to showcase their projects on social media and online resources.  I have two decades on these students and they are articulate well beyond my years.  You can not help but be impressed by their accomplishments, their web-savvy and most of all their passion for their projects.

One thing that clearly helped fuel and empower that passion was easy access to the Internet.  Juniors Melina and Brook demonstrated iPhone apps that helped them in Chemisty and Physics respectively. Junior Ammar pulled up and gave a tour of a Dynamic Periodic Table that helped him. High school freshman and blogger Mike spoke about how he gained insight from blogs and the usefulness of emailing experts to learn more. Their teacher, Stacy Baker, reported that when students post their work online where it would be subject to the scrutiny of peers and professionals alike, the “quality of work skyrockets.”  Meanwhile Jack, high school freshman AND video game programmer extraordinaire, brought up another benefit altogether , “If you have access to the Internet, anything can become a community experience.”

Jack’s observations echoes the namesake of Linux’s free and open source operating system.  It’s named for a concept that embraces community:

“Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.”
-Archibishop Desmond Tutu

The blogging community in the geosciences was highlighted in another session. In Casting a wider net: Promoting gender and ethnic diversity in STEM, Anne Jefferson spoke on the benefits women and minorities find from geoscience blogs.  She and a team of bloggers conducted a survey among readers.  The social benefit most strongly agreed upon was “Finding role models”.

More than once during the conference, I heard an attendee ask the very valid question of, “What do you do about the students who don’t have Internet?

In the case of Hunter Street, the question isn’t simply a case of a faulty cable modem.  There are families on my street who at times can’t afford kerosene for their homes, gas for their cars or diapers for their babies.  They can’t afford computers period.  How do we invite them to join the online community– where they have access to experts like Mike, feel like part of community like Jack or find role models like the geoscience blog readers?

For Ryan and I, our answer was, “You buy it for them.” That was the backbone of our Computer Literacy Program in Elizabeth City.  We (and by we, I mean mostly Ryan) bought 13 refurbished computers from eBay. We taught twelve weeks of classes in our home to teach the children how to care for and use them and then we gave the laptops away.  We are doing the same with our Internet.  Like Linux’s Ubuntu, we keep our wireless open and free.  The children in our neighborhood know that even if we are not home, they are not a “human being in isolation.”  They can sit on the stoop and be connected to people all over the world.

Computer Literacy - Final Test - Rewarded Laptop A Computer Literacy - Software - Terrace and Steve Smith
Computer Literacy Program  - IT Jobs - Ryan Shows Database Structure Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Henry and Tyrek with Delicious

Snippets of the Computer Literacy Program

My favorite speaker of the conference also spoke in the Casting a wider net: Promoting gender and ethnic diversity in STEM session. Her name is Suzanne Franks and her topic was fostering communities.  She highlighted the importance of history and knowing that “what you are doing now may sound like a small thing, but you aren’t doing it alone.  You aren’t doing it for the first time.”

It was during another session, Rev. Dr. Martin Lurther King, Jr. Memorial Session Engaging Underrepresented Minorities in Online Science, that Ryan and I learned Suzanne Franks was absolutely right– we are not alone.  Speaker David Kroll introduced us to a great non-profit organization in Durham, North Carolina called the Kramden Institute.  They refurbish and provide computers to honor students in need.  To date they have provided computers to 4000 students who did not have a computer at home.  Ryan and Vicky’s Score –  12.

Like the geoscience blog readers, it appears Ryan and I have uncovered a role model of our own through the online community. 🙂

Ryan’s Coverage on Science Online 2010
My Computer Literacy Program Posts

Entry filed under: #scio10, Computer Literacy Program, Neighborhood Kids, STEM.

Computer Literacy Program – Final Test and Laptop Giveaway The Neighborhood Girls, Cindy McGill and Mary Kay

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