3 lessons from Geek Squad Academy

As the Lego robot shimmies its way across the carpet I can’t help but gawp. The ten year old surfer-dude who just told me his best nose-picking joke has successfully programmed his Lego vehicle to navigate a masking tape maze. Granted, the robotics course is a drag-and-drop environment—but these kids are learning if/else and for loops before 9AM #jawdrop.

The Geek Squad Academy put on by Best Buy has a national tour of tech-teaching for teens and pre-teens. Onondaga Free Library (OFL) in Syracuse, NY won a Geek Squad Academy experience for its local kids through a grant, one of 15 cities in the U.S. to snag the opportunity.  Alyssa Newton, asst. director of the OFL heralded a call for volunteers. I responded, and along with other Syracuse University LIS students and alumni and enjoyed 2 days of the genius, madness, chaos of 10 year old geeks #CoolestKidsinTown

Broken into groups of 15 the teams LOLcats, Haxors, and Encryptors (to name a few), we learned Geek Squad cheers #LOUDnProud
“VERY COOOOOooooooooool!”
“Haxors!” –“Hack-em!”
Rewarded with candy but motivated beyond sugar the students tinkered with SketchUp for 3D printing designs (so cool!!) and Lego Robotics throughout the week.

sketchupEach group attended 5 sessions a day:

  • Digital Citizenship
  • Lego Robotics
  • Film/Script
  • Digital Music (Garage Band)
  • 3D printing

I learned a lot. Here are 3 lessons of many I took away from the workshops, play with kids, and conversations with library and Geek Squad professionals.

Lesson 1: Don’t Ask Just Do It.

Kid: “Hey. Hey. Geek Squad lady, can I use the lift-y thing on my house? Is it ok if I make my room 8 feet high?”

[Her attention is absorbed by another project]

Another Kid: “Dude, don’t ask just do it.”

We are cautious—yes, us, adults! we are cautious. We think before we act. We don’t just Break Things-Push-All-the-Buttons-Get-Lost-in-the-Grocery-Store anymore. But exploring the edges of the world requires discovering what is possible. How do you know where the sidewalk ends until you steel your courage try looking over the edge and build a parachute…then jump off #? Play—and re-learn to play. Discover the best way to negotiate lunch, for starters. Half a fluffer-nutter for homemade jerky is a fair trade #withAnUncrustable. In kid world, kale and tofu salad has zero leverage. #Zilch. I remember when I was little and was fired up by tinkering with rollercoaster tycoon. Curiosity is critical! And it is threatened in the standardized, tidy, social-pressurized world adults adjust to. Growing up shouldn’t mean loss of curiosity, especially as an information professional and scholar.Don’t even try to convince me you could ever get a Ph.D. without avid curiosity, #amirite?

Lesson 2: Girls in Tech
On a more serious note I also observed the behavioral differences between guys and girls and their attitudes and relationship toward tech. Attendance-wise, 25% of the crowd were girls. However, both guys and the girls were rowdy but respectful. Most of them said their favorite subject is science and loved to play sports. More ladies are going to college than guys, but there’s still a disparity when according to Apple’s recent diversity report in August 2014, 70% of employees at Apple are male…(Upstart Business Journal, upstart.bizjournals.com). And that 75% of the kids at tech programming like the Geek Squad Academy were boys, a suggestive correlation. Reading Lean In by Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg has opened my eyes to the real gaps that still remain with Girls in Tech. The Geek Squad Academy was not the first tech workshop many of the boys I talked to in the Lego Robotics sessions had been to; some were familiar with the Lego mindstorms and other drag n drop programming environs. All kids should have the leg up early on–especially if their favorite subject is science…or garage band. #GirlsInTech #ITgirls

Lesson 3: Digital Natives
“Kids these days really know technology! They got a handle on all the ins and outs of the smart-thingies, the iPads and those ‘der iPhones!”

Many information professionals will argue that this is a myth: “Just because kids are digital natives does not mean they know the least bit about computers.”

Yes… and/but.

While it’s true that fiddling around with an iPad doesn’t automatically equip anyone to understand the nooks and crannies of evaluating the validity of an information resource, apply the concepts of database design, or evaluate the goodness of a classification model, kids get comfortable in the environment. They learn the interface—the basics language of GUI design, information architecture, and good web design (recognizing commonly used symbols–that’s the power button, swishing up with the index makes the page scroll, pressing harder makes the guitar get louder, etc.). Furthermore, Geek Squad Academy reviewed vocabulary in every session giving the “Junior Agents” an understanding of the why and the how of applications we used. Conceptually, the kids have a long way to go–when trying to write their own robotics programs they couldn’t quite piece the logic of a foreloop–but were very good at copying what Geek Squad lieutenant

After the lessons…now what??
In the meantime, I get to explore! I listed my notes from Geek Squad Academy below– a to-do list that will get me on the level of the kids and Geek Squad employees I met 😛

  • [replicating data: check out treehouse.com]
  • Watch World War Z. [suggestion from a Junior Agent] J
  • To bring: cape, hat, markers, robotic digital film music script.
  • Pearl, VB, C#, C
  • A Plus, Get certification in comp scià cheaper than a college degree. $400/$500 certifications through MS—security plus. HTML5. There are local tests to take after you buy a book and study.
  • Try Mindstorm. Simpler than Lego Robotics! “Uberfun”
  • Ad blocker free downloader, digital shadow (login with Facebook) for tracking.
  • In the digital citizenship session, we broke into teams to make anti-cyberbullying campaigns with ipad and markers. We also learned about flaming (THAT’S WHEN MAKE A NEGATIVE COMMENT IN ALL CAPS), ad blocker, cookies, target marketing, and pros and cons of the commercial collection of user information. Yes, there are pros. The Geek Squad treated the issue carefully and fairly, emphasizing that Collusion is a service that allows the user to see sites that are tracking online behavior. For example, When I visit IMBD.com, 3 sites track my info. Check out this awesome visualization of how “if you are not paying for a service, you are probably the product” from collusion.
  • During lunch we played Ninja, a classic recess game where you must be the last ninja standing. Going around in a circle of Ninjas, you lunge in a “fluid ninja motion” and try to chop your opponent below the wrist to incapacitate their hand.

Novellina, Teresea. “Apple needs more Angelas, Eddys, and Kims, but will they come and will they stay?” Upstart Business Journal. 13 August 2014. Accessed: August 15, 2014. http://upstart.bizjournals.com/entrepreneurs/hot-shots/2014/08/13/apple-needs-more-angelas-eddys-and-kims-but-will.html?page=all


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