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The Rocket Boys: What Students Can Accomplish When You Let Them

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My class has about fifty computers in it, mostly older Apple G3s, but I am in the process of getting some newer ones. A few of my students decided that they would like to experiment with networked gaming, so they asked me if they could bring in a couple of their own computers and set them up. I said, "Sure."

Rocket Boys

A few weeks later, I noticed that "a couple" was now six computers commanding an entire table off to the side of my class, and that the two or three boys that started this activity had turned into about fifteen boys in my room at every possible spare moment. They had set up an elaborate network among the six computers and were attracting kids from all over the campus to play games against each other.

These boys then came to me and asked me if they could start a computer club. I didn't have a problem with that, so again I said, "Sure." A few days later, they approached me with some paperwork and asked me to sign on as the sponsor. "What do I have to do?" I asked. "Oh nothing," they replied. "We just need a faculty signature."

I soon became responsible for this club, but I didn't mind. These were smart kids who spent their time building and rebuilding the computers. I then noticed that the core group of two or three were no longer playing the games, but rather sitting back and watching others enjoy them with the quiet satisfaction of knowing they had made it possible.

Later, when I needed help setting up a computer lab at a school in another district (for my doctoral studies), these boys volunteered to help. They formatted thirty-six computers at a school they had never been to for people they would never meet. While we were at the school working in the lab, one of them brought out a small radio-controlled helicopter and began flying it around the room. We all got a big kick out it, and I told them about a book (and then a movie) called October Sky, in which a group of high school boys got interested in amateur rocket building. Their teacher called them the Rocket Boys, and, after this day, that is what I would call my computer whizzes.

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Susan Ferriss's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That's a great story and I appreciate it being shared. It makes me nervous though that theres not one mention of girls in there anywhere. What do you do to encourage them to take part in something like this, maybe it's a historic problem in your school that they hve lost interest before getting to you. I wonder what the solution is to that.

Warren Apel's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Susan - that point about a lack of involvement by girls is a really good one. What we've done is to have a girls-only computer club. (And a girls-only middle school robotics class.) We've found that boys tend to hog the keyboards and dominate the groups, even if girls are really interested in computers and robotics. When you separate them out, girls do some amazing robotics and computer projects!

Herb Coleman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My research is in gender and computers and this scenario was completely predictable. We seem to find that girls and boys take a different approaches to computing. The fact that this whole thing started around gaming and then led to a computer club is quite typical of boy-computer interaction. In order for this kind of thing to attract girls in similar number, it would have started around communication networking or some other outside of computers project. Notice that the boys are focusing on the computers themselves while girls would tend to focus on what problem you could solve with them or extending communication networks.

Of course these are broad generalizations and there were probably some girls who were interested in gaming and the computer club and obviously not every boy was.

Christine Rogers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

That was my exact thought as well while reading this. It is great what the boys and their teacher are doing, and I think it's the essence of good teaching and learning. But WHERE are the girls in this? I agree they probaly aren't interested, but need to be encouraged. It's their future too.

Lesley Denny's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ron, Susan, et. al.,

We have a tech club available to all students from 7-12. In seventh grade, we have an equal number of boys and girls. In eighth grade it drops to 2-1. By the freshman year, it becomes all boys. I have made a concerted effort (as a female Instructional Technologist )to recruit girls to the club. I found this book helpful "Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls ", by Mary Pipher. It provides some insight, and some solutions. I think we may need to start our tech clubs in earlier grade levels.

Ron Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

There have been a couple of girls that have come to the club, but they haven't stayed. As Herb said, girls just take a very different approach to computing than boys do. To be fair, though, in my room at lunch, while the rocket boys are busy gaming in their corner of the room, there are several girls in the room, usually in small groups, doing their own thing on the computers. They look at online games (that aren't blocked by our firewall), social networking sites (again, those that aren't blocked), poetry, music, and so on. Typically, there are about 30 kids in my room at lunch. It makes me very happy that they feel safe to be themselves. They ask for my help when they need to, but usually let me eat my lunch in peace. Usually!

jgasm's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Herb Coleman, your generalizations are both unnecessary and offensive. Based on the article the rocket boys spent their time building materials for others. I do not see how this constitutes "focusing on the computers themselves" as some kind of downfall. Thus, I would say the rocket boys solved a very big problem by focusing on other people's needs.

Christina Moser's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Strategic Readers
I attended a workshop on Tuesday, 2/6/07, to gain more knowledge on various strategies to teach reading in the various content areas. My hope was to learn NEW strategies, as I felt that I was constantly offering the same advice to Learning Coaches and parents. However, much to my surprise, there were no new strategies discussed, yet strategies such as rereading, using context clues, reading aloud, paired reading, popcorn (shared) reading, graphic organizers and using post-it notes/highlighters. Each strategy was discussed, allowing for educators to tell how he/she uses these strategies in their learning environment; lists were provided on how to incorporate each strategy. I felt like an effective teacher after having it reaffirmed that I was offering the "right" strategies. My goal is to create a LiveLesson and share the information with my students' Learning Coaches. It's difficult sometimes being the voice on the phone and not the direct teacher!

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