“Ms. Hailley, Ms. Hailley!” Summer at UNCC

I walked into the center last week to be greeted by this now 8th grader: 

“Hey stranger.”  

His greeting contained a hint of sarcasm with a hint of truth. I hadn’t been back to the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC) for a string of days since May. I had visited the center twice before the current visit but his greeting stung a little. I missed the center (and the kids) like crazy but have two other summer campus jobs right now. Sometimes I have a hard time keeping everything straight. 

So then why am I willingly at the center, ready to teach a series of weekly classes on Monday afternoons until the end of July? 

Because I just can’t let go. Additionally, I love being busy to a point of perhaps *too* busy. But that’s another story. 

Be part of a grant, they tell me. It will be great experience. Yes, my job this past year was amazing, and I got placed at a site well suited for me. And in true Hailley Fargo fashion, I became so involved with the people there, when the grant ended (prematurely, but again that’s another story) there was no question that I would stay on. Grant or no grant. I was a part of UNCC and I couldn’t turn back. 

The kids I get the chance to work with are incredible. They are mostly elementary students from all sorts of different backgrounds. As I spent more time at the center, they welcomed me. Their smiles as they saw me when they walked in from the school bus are the types of smiles where you just have to smile too. We wrote out spelling words (for the record, second graders learn how to spell phenomenal these days), conquered the art of using a ruler, battled fractions with uncommon denominators, and read lots of Scooby Doo. After all that homework (and the snack, one cannot forget the snack) then we moved to the computers. And there, I got to watch these kids learn how to plug in a computer, turn it on and off, use the internet, and of course, play their favorite game, Roblox. Some of my most rewarding moments at the center are when I’m playing Roblox with a handful of students and they lean across my keyboard. “Here, let me help you Ms. Hailley,” they said as they maneuvered to a new screen or toggled an option I never knew existed (like I could transform into a dog!). I was a co-learner at that moment and spent most of my time there, learning from the students who surrounded me. 

I want the best for these kids. I want to teach them digital literacy in the best way I know possible. My day gets better when I walk into the center and hear the chorus of “Ms. Hailley! Ms. Hailley!” and their steps as they run to give me a hug first. 

This whole story leads me to this Monday’s session. Through interviews and personal conversations, I knew that opening up a computer back on Halloween was sort of “life-changing” for some of the elementary kids. They cite that as one of their favorite workshops and when asked if they would like to open up a computer again they enthusiastically responded with “YES.” 

I had spent the weekend brainstorming how I would do the “open the computer, see what’s inside” workshop. The last time, I had made a slideshow with some brief definitions and it mostly became a free-for-all. They scoped out the inside, took out some parts, and couldn’t stop looking at the green golden circuit board. 

However, I wanted to change it up this time. I was feeling inspired by my friend Max’s latest blog post (he’s teaching on a Fulbright in Malaysia) and by the book I just finished reading, Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction by Maria T. Accardi. I had quotes from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed running through my head and I wanted to hear the voices of the kids I worked with. I wanted to do something where they would remember not only what the inside of a computer looked like, but also what those parts did. 

So I came up with a plan. Have the kids divide into groups, open up a computer, use a loose worksheet (with computer components and then lines to write their own definition), and then use a search engine to figure out what each part did. In an ideal world, once they defined the part, they would go back to the computer, locate said part, and then begin to draw their own diagram/blueprint of the inside of a computer. 

Perfect, right? 

Not quite. Ran into a few roadblocks:

  • Ages of the kids in each group. Naturally the kids clumped with kids their age, which gave the soon to be fifth graders a distinct advantage over the group of soon to be first and third graders. Reading on the internet is tough, especially computer lingo. Take a look at the definition Google gives us when we search “Motherboard define”

"a printed circuit board containing the principal components of a computer or other device, with connectors into which other circuit boards can be slotted."

  • One Ms. Hailley + lack of attention span and or patience == frustrated kids. There’s only one place I can be at a time. Groups that weren’t self-motivated (especially kids who hadn’t worked with me during the school year) ended giving up pretty early on. I would have also needed more time to have one-one interactions with the students. 

However, for the two fifth graders, I think (and hope) they got a lot out of it. I was able to work with them on good Google searches (we don’t need “what is/does…” to begin our search query) and pushed them to articulate what the parts did. I really pushed them with RAM. I kept asking questions like “How is RAM different than the hard drive?” or “Where would the computer send the message first before sending it to the RAM?” These were both girls I had worked with before and I could their progress since I first met them back in September. 

The workshop ended abruptly. I started on another tech project for UNCC before seeing one of my favorite students, a soon-to-be first grader. He was playing Roblox, lost in the world where he controlled the speed of boats in an Egypt, ride-down-the-Nile-style amusement park. 

“Wanna see the inside of a computer?” I asked him, knowing he probably would. He nodded and we headed over to the now deserted table of computer towers. We picked one out and I started asking him questions about the motherboard. He had remembered from the previous workshop, leaning over the box to see the circuits. He knew how to take a piece of RAM out and tapped it on the table as we took the hard drive out. I asked more questions and he answered them, with a head nod here and there followed by a short answer. After he put the hard drive back in it’s proper place, he and I went around, putting the covers back on the tower, covering up all the wires. 

“Do you want to help me plug them back in or play some more Roblox?” I asked once we were done. He pointed at his abandoned computer. “Go have fun bud,” I said and he ran back to his game. 

It’s moments like these that remind me why I want to be a librarian. To have those interactions, to build those connections, to ask those questions to get the kids talking, that’s why I love this field. That’s why I read the critical theory and try to apply it in practice. That’s why I keep coming back to UNCC and that’s why a workshop that didn’t go perfectly as planned doesn’t bum me out too much…I’ll have another chance soon.