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Getting kids into tech


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So 2 weeks ago I volunteered for the Hack In The Box security conference and its associated Haxpo. The Haxpo is a free exhibition next to the SecConf where vendors and hackerspaces and startups and what not can get some exposure. One of the things I noticed was that quite a few people brought their kids and, in general, there wasn't a lot to do for them.

We had Toool (obviously) with their lockpick village (i.e. big table) where you could try your hand at a stack of locks.
There were Mitch Altman and Jimmy P Rodgers who were selling circuit board kits and teaching people how to solder them up in their soldering village (2 more big tables) using several soldering irons and stuff brought in by the various hacker spaces each of whom had a small booth there aswell (we had, like, 6 of them for various parts of the country).
There was a full Haxpo track of very good talks on security and technology matters.

And again, all this was completely free. The organisation essentially uses the (exorbitant) entry fee for the SecConf to pay for the Haxpo. End result is people would just walk in from the street, browse around a bit and then leave again when they'd seen enough.

Naturally everybody tried to pick a lock or two (the Toool guy had next to no voice left after the full 3 days) and quite a few people bought a kit and started soldering but beyond that, what activities would you provide at such a venue that would entice kids to (want to) learn more about tech?

There were 3D printers up the wazoo, but because even a modest print takes hours you can't really get a kid to make any sort of model during such an event and expect him/her to wait while the printer buzzes.

They couldn't attend the talks because quite literally all of them were in english which doesn't get taught here until you're, like, 10-12 and topics tend to be specific so there's going to be very complicated words thrown about meaning that unless you're a kid who's already interested in and knowledgeable of the subject AND can listen to a presenter who wants to get a specific point across within a 1 hour timeslot so will be talking kinda quickly, you're not going to enjoy listening to that talk.

So what type of techie activity could you provide that would get a kid going?

It would have to be something you can do in a small space, preferably not require a lot of up-front costs and even more preferably be something that could be sponsored so the kid can take whatever it was back home to show off and/or continue tinkering, probably needs to be something that provides quick feedback so kids can see their accomplishments in a short timeframe and most importantly it has to be FUN.

Starting point is 0 so we could tech programming in, say, javascript, but it's potentially a lot to take on during the roughly 30 minutes that they'll be around before either the kid or mum & dad want to move on.

Anybody have any thoughts on this?

Edited by Cooper
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I think it's important to get kids interested in tech, and I work with a handful of universities (not really kids I guess), but I have to say, I avoid anyone under the age of 16, as although I get my criminal record check once a year (its a requirement, with some uni's), it's just a fucking mine field. It just takes one parent who develops a dislike towards you, to call you a peodphile and you are fucked for life. Even if you've never done anything and never would and there is no truth to it, it's just not worth throwing your life away by risking working with kids.

If you are organising something, you can teach scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/ which is part of the UK's primery education curriculum, and is a fun way to introduce the consepts behind programming. Other things I'd do, would be building and racing Brissle bots (toothbrush head with a pager motor and coin cell). Slightly older kids drawdio kits are great, as making a musical pencil gives them something to play with and take home. Light following robots are also good for slightly older kids. Waterbottle rockets are always fun if you are outside. I could write a list of hundreds of things, to teach everything from programming, electronics, aerodynamics, chemistry, but is not that hard to come up with fun ways to learn.

With your requirements, build Brissle bots and race tracks.

Edited by metatron
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I never knew about those things. That's an excellent idea.

You can get a motor for 30 cent when you get multiples of 80, the battery for 10 cents with multiples of 100 and the toothbrush for another 10 cents when you a pack of 4. Add a few rolls of double-sided foam tape and you're done. 50 cents and a kid gets a bug to play with. Love it!

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One of the things that Chris Hadnagy does with his Social-Engineer.org company is they have contests at Defcon for the hacker village that is just for kids, in addition to their normal adult SE contest. All the kids get a t-shirt for the event, and the winning teams get some kind of certificate as well that they can take home and add to their conference memorabilia. Before starting my current job, I used to used to design the artwork for his shirts, stickers, certs and such which that's how I know about the kids contest that coincides with the adult SE-CTF.

I think anything that allows parents to get the kids started on a path that engages them with technology, while also keeping in clean and wholesome and teaching the the ethical side of hacking for fun, good, etc, is always a plus. Derbycon has had events for kids after the first year and continues to do the same, and I see this is probably only going to grow over time with parents now brining the whole family to the conferences. Derbycon for example has gotten much larger and sells out dairly qickly for rooms since they now have things for the kids at their conference so you can imagine it will only compound more as whole families go together vs just the moms or dads that work in the IT field.

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My daughter is three, and she love tech, and I mean loves it. We've been building a custom controller for Kerbal Space Program.

She has had a leg up compared to most kids though with me as a parent, and watching Hak5, Tekthing etc with me. I plan on bringing me whole family to Defcon in a few years.

As for kids who may not be into tech, but you want to show them something awesome, building their own little robot is always good I've noticed. For those who are computer gamers, showing how easy it can be to build a custom controller for a game is a great start too.

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