In our computer coding program, we started of with a thought experiment to make kids understand Computer Science. At schools, using computer and learning to get better at software tools like Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Paint is considered Computer Science, which is actually not. Edsger Dijkstra beautifully expresses it saying “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” We tried to explain kids Computer Science in its true spirit with the analogy of a Music Box. Every design, product, system has a mystery behind it and we wanted kids experience the fun in ‘figuring out the logic’ behind the mystery.
(would request you to come up with your own theories before you read further)
We showed them the above video and wanted them to come up with possible ideas on how the Music box works. We grouped them into teams and each of them were reasoning the possibilities.
Here are some of the theories the teams came up with
1. ‘A xylophone is inside and a stick plays at a sequence of steps when the lever is rotated’.
2. ‘A gear is connected to multiple strings and on rotating the lever, the gear rotates, which then plucks the strings to generate sound like a guitar’
3. ‘A disk with an irregular shape on the edges is the one that rotates. A small rod is fixed on the other side. When the disc is rotated, the rod gets plucked by the irregular edges and it creates sound like a gramophone’.
4. ‘A speaker and a micro SD card generates the sound, it gets switched on when rotated’.
Here is a video explaining how it works)
Later we asked them to think of the same box design and use it to generate more than one song. Some suggested changing the rotating cylinder to create more songs which was bang on to The Difference Engine proposed by Charles Babbage (Every kids is made to remember as a fact that Charles Babbage is ‘The father of Computer’. But why? are kids aware? and Ada Lovelace? Do we even know her).
The intention was to provoke them to think of efficiency, How the music box can be made efficient without changing much? Few kids suggested creating an electronic device to generate sound and others were considering to create different boxes with different songs. After much brainstorming and exploration of ideas, we decided to show them the punch card music box to give them an idea of Universal Machine proposed by Alan Turing, the father of Computer Science
The theories that kids came up in just 10 – 15 min was amazing to watch. On one side it made me wonder at the fascinating logical road map that these kids use for thinking. On the other side, how kids observe what they see in & around them and how it has a profound influence in their thought process.
For e.g. the Speaker with Micro SD might be ‘out of the box’ but the question was ‘what was inside the box’.
This triggered a thought, All the kids build a logical road map for thinking from observing the problem and then consider possibilities. Their exposure truly influences their though process. For e.g. I am guessing the kid with Xylophone idea would have played with it earlier and was able to relate to it. This strengthen the belief that exposure of diverse thought process, ideas, perspectives is important for kids.
A general understanding of exposure is always considered to be something new, something present or something of the possible future. But are kids exposed enough to the past? Are they exposed to enough ideas and challenges even if they are old and obsolete, so that it makes them explore different approach to a problem? The reasoning with exposure to ideas of the old and new and bridging them with logic seems vital and we need to expose kids to not just the present & future but the past as well.