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I’ve been really disappointed in the lack of computer literacy in my children’s education. I could bemoan this, but there’s no point. Instead, Miriam and I have been making a concerted effort to try and teach the kids computer literacy ourselves. When the entire country (and basically entire world) went into Coronavirus lockdown back in March, we started our own curriculum at home that included things like:

  • Todo list management
  • Email management
  • Typing practice

We encouraged the kids to play games on the computer instead of their tablets. (Minecraft was a big hit here.) And we started teaching them Rust. These things all worked, but the kids don’t really enjoy this stuff. We wanted to find something more fun and engaging.

With the new school year, the kids have some days home for remote learning with larger gaps in their schedules. So we decided to try something new, and it seems to be a success.

PowerPoint presentations

The kids are really into Minecraft right now. Earlier this week, before they went to school, we had about 30 minutes free. I brought out my computer, sat the kids down, and started asking them questions about Minecraft. As they answered, I typed it into bullets on slides. Then I showed them how to apply design ideas to make it more colorful. Then we recorded a voiceover, exported a video, and were able to upload to YouTube (unlisted of course).

This whole project took 20 minutes. It ended with the kids being on YouTube. This was enough to get them interested and hooked. Later this week, when two of the kids were home from school, I gave them a slower introduction to how PowerPoint works, and then gave them a task of making their own presentations on whatever topics they wanted. And then they happily worked on it for an hour.

From a learning standpoint, what we’d achieved was excitement about a topic and reduced resistance, while honing multiple technical and communicative skills:

  • More typing practice
  • How to organize a narrative
  • Basics of word processing (bullets, headings, etc)
  • More familiarity in general with using a computer (in place of a tablet)

These may sound modest, but the advantage of having the kids motivated to try this out makes it worth it.

Why not LibreOffice/Google Slides/reveal.js?

When I said PowerPoint above, I meant the actual desktop version of Microsoft PowerPoint. This feels a bit funny. When I was in middle school, PowerPoint was the cool technology. Then I didn’t touch PowerPoint for about 20 years, and have used things like reveal.js since.

I initially thought that we should keep the kids more agnostic on which tools they use, and not marry them immediately to one platform. Miriam and I discussed this in more depth, and realized at this point it’s more important for us to get them productive as quickly as possible, with a single tool, to keep their motivation high.

Recently at work, I’ve been on the Microsoft Office suite quite a bit. We made a move to Microsoft 365, and I’ve been making my own presentations and documents in PowerPoint and Word again. My familiarity, the maturity of the tools, the really nice features (like built in recording and design ideas), and the general adoption makes me think we made the right decision in focusing on this toolchain.

I still hope to make the kids more computer literate going forward, and hope that they don’t end up dependent on just one vendor’s tools. But I don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and I’d rather they be competent with 1 technology than 0.

Worth it?

If you’re looking for a new way to engage your kids with computer literacy, I would definitely recommend trying this out. I wouldn’t change anything of how I rolled this out. Summarized below, here’s my formula:

  • First presentation: you’re at the keyboard
    • Choose a topic you know your kids are excited about
    • Ask them questions about it (they love talking about this topic, right?)
    • Put the notes into a note taking app (e.g. OneNote/Keep), a document (e.g. Word), or just a piece of paper
    • Show them how you convert those notes into a PowerPoint deck
    • Ask them for input on choosing a theme, design ideas, inserting graphics, etc
    • Let them record a voiceover for each slide. Don’t worry if they just read out each slide verbatim
    • Export to a video and let them see that they made a cool presentation!
  • Second presentation: more instructive
    • Choose a simple topic you know a lot about
    • Put together the notes with the kids, but do it more slowly, and explain how to structure thoughts cohesively
    • Convert to slides, but do it much more slowly, and explain all the details (different slide formats, how to indent tabs, etc)
    • Do the same thing with theme, design ideas, etc
  • Third presentation: they’re in control
    • Help them choose a topic they care about
    • Tell them to use a piece of paper to jot down all their ideas (they can use an app if they really want)
    • Help them structure these notes into a narrative
    • Let them convert that into slides. They’re at the computer this time, but be nearby to answer questions
    • Do not inhibit their creativity here. Let them use every gaudy color scheme, crazy transition, obnoxious audio clip, etc.

I hope this is helpful for others. If you have success (or failure) with this with your kids, please let us know, we’re really interested in how other people are approaching computer literacy for their kids!

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