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Computers and Kids: Reflection on CHIkids...

Allison Druin

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This month's column was not really written by me, Allison Druin. It was written by two CHIkids moms and their CHIkids. The first mom has been an active CHI volunteer and a frequent conference participant. The second mom has never been to a CHI conference before, but she came to join her husband (a CHIkids Leader) and her two boys (both CHIkids participants). What follows are the reflections and thoughts of parents and kids about their CHIkids experience:

Nancy Frishberg, CHIkids Parent

My daughter had last attended CHI in Boston (was that '94?). It was definitely childcare and she was among the oldest there at 5-going-on-6. I took her out of the childcare at various times to enjoy Boston's art museum, the swan boats, but felt she didn't really have a good time -- missed being with peers, watched a lot of cartoon videos and was "stuck in a hotel". This is not a complaint, because I do appreciate the efforts that people went to in order to provide childcare, without which our family would have had a rough time attending.

This year not knowing what to anticipate, she was skeptical, didn't quite know how to select activities ahead of time and uncertain whether she was glad or mad that she was missing school to be there. But after about 5 minutes (spent getting ready to go out on an interview with a team of older kids and a CHIkids leader, while I filled out various paperwork), she was ready to dismiss me. She wore her CHIkids shirt proudly, worked hard on her writing, took a nap on the newsroom floor after her deadline had passed, having had a few late nights with me. You can find her first homepage under her name "Janet" and various interviews and articles on the Wednesday and Thursday pages (see http://www.acm.org/sigchi/chi97/chikids).

I came by to admire her work at various breaks in my schedule. She was busy in the newsroom, and as often as not greeted me and went back to whatever she was doing. I still took her out, but this time to a conference panel on kids and computers in the future. She heard comments from various adults and kids on the panel. She was even moved to make her own statement from the floor during the panel discussion. Afterwards at dinner with one of the (adult) panelists, she recalled the contrast he'd made between KidPix and Cocoa, both of which she has experience with: the first provides you with a set of ready-made elements that you can use to create something of your own, in the second you have the building blocks to make your own elements (constructionist) and said she wanted to share that idea with another adult she knows who designs kids' games. This is 8-going-on-9, so that confirmed for me that the panelists spoke so that kids could understand them.

From my viewpoint, having 15-23 year olds helping the 8-14 year olds worked great. Another longtime CHI participant suggested that soon we'll get someone on the program who starts by saying "This is my 15th CHI, but my first time giving a paper at age 17". I can't wait!

Janet Seiden Frishberg, CHIkid Age 8

When I heard I was going to go to Atlanta with my mom for a conference, I wasn't very thrilled. I pictured the newsroom as a place where everyone would tell you what to do, but it wasn't at all like that. If it had been like that, it wouldn't have been fun. Everyone would be making articles that weren't fun to read. They wouldn't have it from the kid's point of view, which even for me I like reading.

It was different, because you usually wouldn't get to take advantage of things yourself. Especially if you're making a newspaper that was supposed to be really good because important people were going to read it. I don't think many other kids were used to that either, because everyone ended up asking what to do next, and how to do this and should I do it like that.

First when we got there, some people were assigned to do articles for the newspaper and some people were photographers and some went to test Cocoa. Cocoa is a game where you really get to create your own worlds, and it's all you -- you make up whatever it is. I was one of the people at Cocoa. But most everyone was trying it for the first time. I helped find some of the bugs and make recommendations about how it would let the user really take advantage and make the program pretty much all by themselves. Cocoa was at my school about a year ago, with a few other kids. I ended up making a world (at CHI 97) that was a pretty balanced food chain, I guess you could say. There were happy faces that ate some kelp, except the kelp didn't last very long, because it was being eaten and it couldn't do anything else. There were two faces that ate the happy faces, so I had to make them reproduce or else they would be killed off. I also made what you could say was a savior for the happy faces, which ate the bad guys that ate the happy faces. This didn't take me very long once I remembered what I had learned, but it could have if I wasn't very experienced. I got to do an article about my world in the newspaper.

When the next day came, I wasn't testing any programs anymore. I actually got to do some articles. I interviewed one person from the conference and another girl took pictures of us to put next to my article. It took longer than it could have though, because the camera wasn't working properly. It was really fun to be able to do the questions yourself, instead of being handed the questions and just adding a few of your own questions. The way we did it, you got to make up the questions. You got to put yourself in someone else's shoes and think what they would want to know. After I had typed that out and got it ready to go in the newspaper, I went with my mom and a few other girls my age to the conference room where we saw a very complex chair called "Alice Sat Here". If you want to know about it, look at the article in the newspaper. Two of us were interviewers and one took pictures. It was fun to go down and see what everyone was really talking about at the conference.

Before CHIkids was over, my mom took me to see a panel. Five adults from totally different backgrounds talked about the same topic, looking into the future of kids and software. Nine kids from CHIkids were also up there being the discussants, so they got to make up their own questions. Even though it wasn't planned for, the kids made comments about the adults' questions and comments. I was glad I went to that because it was pretty interesting to hear all the different sides of view about one topic.

The next day we didn't have a deadline for the newspaper, so we sort of hung out and got ready for "open house", although it's hard to call that hanging out. I didn't have much to do, so I finished my webpage. I learned how to do a webpage, but I had a lot of help, so I don't know how to do some of the things by myself. You can look at my page, as well as many other kids' pages at the website http://www.acm.org/sigchi/chi97/chikids. (Mine is not up-to-date, because my hamster just died.)

Somebody should have taken a picture of me walking on (CHIkids Leader) Debbie Knotts-Callahan's back, saying "CHIkids can also be relaxing!" All in all it was pretty fun, although I will mention I took a tiny nap everyday I was there. It was really exciting to be in the newsroom, and actually be the reporter, not pretend to be, but actually be it. I think that it's a really good experience to take over what you want instead of being told or have a list that you have to follow. And, I'm looking forward to going next year!

Yehudit Platt, CHIkids Parent

This was my first CHIkids, actually my first big International conference. Originally, I was attending as a mother and wife, but I found myself drawn into helping out at CHIkids. My first impression was how well organized CHIkids was.

At first it seemed that there might be too many adults, this proved however, to be important particularly for the younger kids. There were always leaders, volunteers, and parents to help. The three different technology areas kept the kids occupied all day, (no easy task when you have 1-16 year olds in the same place all day). The children spent hours with the different CDs and programs (I spent most of my time in the Technology Workouts area). The younger children seemed to be impressed by those programs which had some physical end-product, either a color picture to print out or something to construct.

My kids (Noam and Yonatan) seemed to make friends from the first minute they were there. It was great for them to be with kids who shared a similar interest in computers. In general, I was amazed at the time and effort from all those involved, from the leaders who worked ten hours a day, to the student volunteers who often came several times in their free time, to the amount of equipment donated which made the whole thing possible. When you consider that among those working in the program were senior computer professionals from companies such as HP and Intel, school computer teachers and university professors. No organization could ever buy a program like CHIkids... Thank you to all who made this possible.

Yonatan Platt, CHIkid, Age 11

Day 1, March 23rd: The actual day started out like this: we sat in a circle and said our names and we had to remember the names of the people ahead of us. Then, we broke up into our groups. I am in the newsroom. It started off by going to a tutorial called "PUST", (I have no idea what that means). Then I went to a multimedia section with adults making stories like: "Forest", "Land of Ladies", and "Sharpen Your Knives". We drafted our newsroom stories after that.

Day 2, March 24th: In the morning I typed the story about a lady that interviewed us and it took me until lunch time. Lunch consisted of hot dogs, spaghetti, fruit, and french fries. Then it was time to go to the CNN station. At the station a tour guide met us. The tour guide was strange but OK. He took us on a fun short tour. When we were done, LB brought us ice creme. When we got back, my friend Brian and I played computer games until it was time to go home.

Day 3, March 25th: The morning started like any other morning by writing a story about Multimedia Storytelling. After having snack me and Brian tested out computer games for a story and then had lunch (same as the previous days...)

Day 4, March 26th: Today was the best day for me in the CHIkids camp. We went to see a demo of virtual reality on the Internet. You have big floating heads and you talk to different people in the world. Then it was time for the same lunch... After lunch the kids from the newsroom went down to a panel discussion about the future of computers and kids. We asked the panel some questions and also answered some questions from the audience.

Noam Platt, CHIkid, Age 8

My Name is Noam Platt, I am seven years old and this was my first CHIkids. My first day we did a scavenger hunt on the computer and we had to make sounds and draw. After that I went to the playroom because my eyes were tired after looking at the computer all day. Then Elizabeth (11) and I made a suggestion box for CHI 98, I liked working with the art stuff.

The next day we made our own companies, ours was called the "War on the Web". We made a book about how we got rid of Allison and Perry (CHIkids Leaders) and a book about warships from pages we found on the web. I also made friends with James from Ohio, Andrew and Alexander. One day we had a paper airplane contest and on Thursday we played games. Most of the days we worked with our companies and used a program called 3D Movie Maker and Fine Artist. I also helped make a lot of posters and really liked making 3D shapes with HyperGami.

On Thursday CHIkids had an open house, some of the kids were tour guides, but I was working with my company. We were making up a story on the computer and we made business cards to give to people.

I had a good time at CHIkids, I got to spend more time with computers than I would at home, and met new friends from all over the world. I got to learn 3-D Movie Maker and I am really looking forward to CHIkids 98... see you all in LA. -- Noam.

Allison Druin
CHI-Bulletin-Kids@acm.org
http://www.cs.unm.edu/~allisond/

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