Teaching about computer hardware

TeachingWhile teaching students coding concepts and how to use Word is becoming the norm, it is also important for teens to learn the basics of computer hardware.  Take the ‘black box’ mystery away by explaining what the parts inside the machine actually do; this will help student to be able to troubleshoot problems when using their computers.

Take apart an old desktop computer
Nothing is better for hands on learning than actually getting out a screwdriver and taking something apart!  Old desktop computers are great because they were often made to be taken apart and customized.  Your teenager can then see the memory (and know how to replace it), find the hard drive (and understand the difference from a solid state drive), understand the different ports and what they do, and, if the desktop is old enough, get a quick lesson in things like modems and how the internet works.  The ideas are endless!    But there are serious safety concerns here as well.  Be sure that the computer has been unplugged for several days before taking it apart, and also be sure that your student does not play around within the power supply.  This is a great time to learn about capacitors and safety around electricity.  Have your student look up capacitors before opening the case on a desktop so that they know what they look like and why not to touch them.
Here is a detailed video on taking apart a desktop computer (You may only want to watch the first half): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctAVC2JwEwI

Raspberry Pi
website: https://www.raspberrypi.org/ 
First released in 2012, Raspberry Pi is a very basic computer without a case.  At $35, this is an affordable way to introduce students to all of the components of a computer.  The Raspberry Pi 3 (64 bit quad core processor) comes with integrated wifi and bluetooth to make it easier to connect to the internet and keyboard.  It has an HDMI port to allow connections to a TV or monitor, speaker output, a LAN port and four USB ports.  I’ve used the Raspberry Pi with students and it is an excellent way to introduce them to operating systems, hardware components, and much more.   There are tons of educational lessons available to use along with the Raspberry Pi.

Kano Computer Kit
website: http://us.kano.me/
The Kano Computer Kit includes a Raspberry Pi along with all of the peripherals needed to get started.  It has a wireless keyboard, case for the Pi, memory card, cables, diy speaker, and a book on getting started.  This is a great kit for anyone who is not comfortable just getting started on their own with a Raspberry Pi.


Teaching GIS to middle and high school students

Teaching GISGeographic Information System (GIS) is a system or software application for displaying, analyzing, and manipulating spacial data.  While the definition may make the concept seem like one that is way above the high school or middle school level, in reality, this is something that students may already use every day through their maps and GPS on their cell phones.

Hopefully these introductory GIS lesson plans will inspire you to dig a little deeper with your students.  Most counties in the U.S.  have GIS maps available online for you to explore your own neighborhood, adding in layers for topography, flood zones, planning and development, and more.

Introduction to GIS
website: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/activity/introduction-gis/
This lesson plan has several great introductory questions for leading students to understand what GIS is and how it is used in everyday life.  The activity using a large rope to make a map may be one that is better suited for classroom situations and younger students.  All in all, it is a good, quick way to introduce the concept.

Exploring Ecosystems with GIS
website: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/photo/new-gis/
Another quick lesson from National Geographic on GIS which would integrate nicely with an Environmental Science or Biology course.  The lesson uses the Jean Lefitte National Park FieldScope mapping software (free online) to bring real information into the lesson.  Using the FieldScope software, students used provided handouts to complete maps and questions.

Think Spatially Using GIS
website: http://edcommunity.esri.com/Resources/Collections/thinking-spatially—ago
This is a series of lesson plans for upper elementary or middle school level.  The lessons cover  I think that these lessons could be completed by middle school students without much direction, but elementary students would need a lot of help to get through the lesson.  There are nine lessons total, and each one builds upon what the student has previously learned.

Hands-on Exercises for GISday
website: http://gisday.com/resources.html
The GISday resources page has several great lesson plans for teens (grades 7 – 12).   Some of the links are to downloadable resources and other are links to other websites that you may want to explore further.   Some of the resources for those age 18+ are easily accessible to high school students as well.



Teaching Coding Concepts through Games

Teach Coding ConceptsIf you are wanting to include some programming logic in a computer course for your middle or high school student, there are so many ways to go about doing this.  More than almost any other subject, all things technical can be learned on the internet.  The key is to find the very best resources that fit your students’ learning style!

The sites listed below range from beginner to much more advanced coding.  The concept of learning through games is not just limited to younger kids, and these site are quite fun for adults.

website: www.codecombat.com
This is a fun site that I’ve used with middle and high school students.  It starts with basic concepts, and it used real code instead of pseudo code so that students can get used to the syntax.    There are courses available for purchase as well as 125 free levels that students can play in either JavaScript or Python.    The concept is to move around and play in a labyrinth type of game where you control the game play by correctly completing the coding task.

website: http://www.codeavengers.com
This website for high school and college students gamifies the process of learning HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, and JQuery.  There are free intro courses for JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.  Other courses cost $29 each, or you can get a teacher account and pay $25 for an annual license for each student.  If your student is serious about learning coding and likes the interface, the $25 annual license seems like a great deal.

website: http://www.codingame.com
This site is great for more advanced students who want to improve their coding skills or learn a new language.  It offers coding challenges using gaming concepts in a variety of different languages including PHP, JavaScript, C and about 20 others.  There are also contests and head-to-head challenges.

Graphic Design Lessons for High School

Teaching graphic design basics to students using Canva.  Perfect for middle and high school students.

Teaching graphic design basics to students using Canva. Perfect for middle and high school students.

Basic graphic design skills can make or break many school projects.   Imagine being able to add the professional looking touches to standard computer applications projects such as designing a brochure or newsletter. Blogging projects come to life with quick and easy creation of blog post headings.

While there are many online applications for editing photos, there are only a few for creating simple graphics with great built in design elements.  Canva is one that works exceptionally well for the tasks it was built for.  It won’t have all of the options of Adobe Illustrator, but for high school students needing to put together a quick graphic, it is almost perfect.

In the “pros” column, Canva offers a great free account option.  It allows you to create the graphic, save it in your account, and download it in several file formats.  Canva sells graphics and photos to add into your design at $1 a piece, but there are many free options for getting started.  Canva allows you to upload your own images as well to use in your designs.

The best part of Canva for teaching graphic design to high school students is all of the built in design lessons.  The Canva Design School has tutorials on all the basics including fonts, colors, layouts, and icons.  The tutorials are hands on and walk the student through both the concept and how to apply it in Canva.  And it is all FREE!

I’ve been using Canva for a couple of years now in a homeschool class that I teach for high school students.  I introduce it early on in the class and assign several tutorials to be completed each week.  The first semester of the class focuses on Microsoft Office essential skills, and the students use Canva for adding graphics into Word and Powerpoint.  By the time we get to blogging in the second semester, Canva is the tool that students use quickly and easily each week to design graphics for their blog.