Background: This month I'm in Cusco, seeing the city and volunteering at a school project for underprivileged, impoverished kids. This is an almost verbatim entry from the diary I'm keeping while I'm out here.
The past few days have been regular. I say regular, but this is Peru, so there isn’t anything regular about it. I suppose I mean predictable, but even then...
I spend my days learning Spanish and working with the kids and my nights out. K and I are getting along even better and spend three consecutive nights together; good food, good drinks and great company. She’s complex and mature, and I sincerely like that. I wonder how much of my attraction to her is intellectual and how much of it is physical. I’m not a physical being (as anyone who has witnessed me trying to play football will know), but she is conventionally beautiful, at the same time as being intriguingly intricate.
Things are going really well at the project. I really enjoy working with the kids, the other volunteers are supportive and it’s been really rewarding so far.
I decide to try and engage the kids in programming. A seemingly impossible task, considering I don’t speak technical Spanish, they don’t have computers and none of the other profesores have any programming experience. I set about trying to teach the concept of input through to output, which lies at the core of programming a computer.
As far as I’m aware, the only real way to engage young kids in fundamentally dull concepts is to simplify them and make them exciting. Input through to output, in this context, equates to code through to result. Commands through to actions. The most accessible computer with the most immediately ‘viewable’ results, conceptually, is a robot. Everyone knows what a robot is, so I began trying to design a game to allow the kids to control a robot.
To give the activity a sense of community, I make los profesores the robots, and the kids divide into teams to control them.
The idea is, they write a series of commands on a piece of paper, which is then given to the robot, who then executes the commands. The program must guide the robot through an obstacle course, pick up a bag of sweets and drop the sweets off in a box at the other end of the course.
Within moments the kids grasp the concept and start writing programs. The first round goes terribly, but once they’ve had a chance to see their programs in action, they’re much more confident with the idea and they really start to have fun. This is problem solving at its core, and they take to it incredibly well. They’re pacing across the room, shouting numbers out to team members,
Everybody’s laughing, everybody’s working and everybody’s thinking. It’s moments like this that make me really excited about the future. Understanding these basic concepts are, and will be, fundamental to the future of businesses and the fact that I get to play a tiny role in this is so fulfilling.
Moved my Lake Titicaca trip forward so K isn’t alone (and I won’t be alone either). Looking forward to seeing nature. Looking forward to seeing the stars. Looking forward to eating the food and doing some hiking in the mountains of the islands.
Fingers crossed it won’t disappoint.