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Encouraging future generations of engineers

March 26, 2008

Every year, around April, I do my part to encourage future generations of engineers and coders. I deliver several 45-minute presentations on the glamour that is a career in a computer science profession to third, fourth, and fifth graders. My presentation consists of a simple career overview, computing history and future, teaching the children computer science fundamentals with activities and demonstrations, and of course code.

The best part is that most of the activities and demonstrations that introduce the key computer science concepts do not require a computer. The activities tend to be short, kinesthetic, involve many children at the same time, and cover topics like information representation, algorithms, cryptography, etc. Since 2005, I have used and modified several of the activities found here in my presentations.

Last year, I started using SCRATCH  to introduce programming concepts to the children. The children and I interactively experiment with SCRATCH snap-together blocks to create and execute program stacks. SCRATCH design eliminates syntax errors and type mismatches, and even allows run-time modification. SCRATCH is built on top of the Squeak programming language. It was inspired by previous work on Logo by MIT in the 1960s.

I’ve also used speech recognition with animated character interaction, NASA’s World Wind, and video of Jeff Han’s work at NYU. I still get goose-bumps when I watch the demo reel of Perceptive Pixel’s Multi-Touch Wall.

It’s in our best interest to help children develop a connection between school and their future as workers. Why not help make that a future in science and/or engineering? Get involved in Career Awareness programs in your local school system.

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