In term 1, 2008, students in my 10th grade Information Software Technology class studied ‘networks’. In the end students had to build a PC from parts, install and OS, network via a router and exchange a file. This was the practical component. Theory revolved around a group wiki.
4 students decided to take this a step further and hooked up 4 computers to a small router and discovered that they could not play Need For Speed Carbon, due to lack of graphics card grunt. So they then figured out that they could get Counter Strike to run on what they had. Now there is a bit of work in learning that as the had assumed that things would ‘just work’. On the first day, they opened lunch time game room and made a whopping $4.00. Their business model was somewhat floored. $1 per machine per lunchtime. So they figured out that this was not going to yield the end of week pizza they we’re aiming for.
So now, 5 weeks on, they have learned quite a lot. Desire for pizza has given way to working out what new tech they can buy to diversify from Counter Strike. They decided not to buy $30 graphics cards to upgrade the PC game play. They now have about 20 PCs, and making about $50 a day with ease, so didn’t see that they could charge more, and they have plenty of happy customers.
They have also figured out what makes a ‘good customer’. So are aiming at the kids in 7th and 8th grade.
They had some problems getting kids to ‘get off’ machines at the end of their game, so have installed a ‘cyber cafe’ application (freeware) to time the use of the machines and limit each payer to 15 minutes. This save a lot of effort in coaxing players off they game. They decided this, they found the application and then they figured out how to it worked without crashing the working LAN game. They have replaced older mice, got a few new keyboards, bought network cables and even figured out the router I gave them was slow and hassled me for a better one.
These kids are not Project Based Learning – but are the kids that piloted my early explorations in Web2.0. They now readily apply skills to end product. The original learning has given way to some very clever group collaboration, business planning and economics.
They have a ‘bank account’ at school and are using that to put money in, and to take money out to buy their equipment. They have made well over a thousand dollars in 5 weeks. And before you jump up and down, the most a kid can spend is $3 on gaming, and they ensure that kids are not there everyday. So they have figured out social considerations too.
They run the room and I have no need to get involved in the day to day running. They do come and ask the odd question, but on the whole I think that if I get involved it might turn all ‘schoolie’.
There are kids in there now who I’ve previously seen as ‘loners’ in the playground. They are creating new social groups. Kids in junior grades are learning from the 10th graders about networking already and it’s a growing venture. They are about to buy a Playstation 3 for the room – as they are seeing the need to diversify their operation … and working on a plan to run a prize based tournament.
All this from a bunch of old PCs that we’re sitting unloved. At times, I really think that it’s critical for teachers to stop teaching … but only when your kids have developed enough skills to be able to make more of their own decisions. This is authentic learning – and didn’t cost a cent – apart from having to go buy the Friday Pizzas (they need to budget for my fuel costs!).