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Testing Kids' IT Skills 28

Dee Arsmith writes "Computer literate kids entering our local high school (form 4 = grade 8) are bored out of their trees by the introductory IT classes they are given. Can Slashdot readers point us to a computer based programme that would allow us to evaluate student skills at the beginning of the year so that the experienced users can be identified and channeled into more advanced courses? Currently the school uses old P100 boxes with W95. (Cybermoles are currently fighting the Forces of Darkness to introduce Linux into the school - but that is another story!) Grateful for any guidance"
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Testing Kids' IT Skills

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    If they can make a Sailboat in LOGO they're smarter than me.
  • just for starters... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jeffy124 ( 453342 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @12:49AM (#3205672) Homepage Journal
    just to start out with, try giving students that think they skip the intro course the equivalent a final exam for that course. if they're good enough to skip over it, they should be able to handle it with a breeze.

    Or, try offering up an accellerated version of the course to keep the kids bored at first, but challenged later.
    • So long as the exam is useful.

      I had "intro" classes that asked incredibly stupid questions on the exam.

      a) In Word, which menu contains the spell check? [we were writing on paper, not allowed to touch our machines]

      b) Describe the exact click-process for creating a pie chart in Excel. Your data is in column C. (ex: Insert>Chart>etc etc etc. They expected the exact menu sequence.)

      These are completely stupid questions. I don't know which menu contains Spell Check in Word, but I can always find it in 5 seconds (and use the keyboard shortcut in the future).

      The curriculum actually involved passing out menu maps of Office products and having us memorize them.. Useless.

      • In Word, which menu contains the spell check?

        First year exam question from Introduction to the system level, University of Exeter, UK, 2000/2001

        Draw Netscape (6)

        I ran out of time to write about the interesting stuff (assembler) cause I wrote a 3 page essay on why my window might not look like as it was a verison of netscape 6 under afterstep with lots of customisation.

        Still, I learnt. Always read the paper first. Then storm out in disgust.
      • That's what you get when people who don't know computers are told to teach computing.

        The first question to ask is "What are the course objectives?" Clearly, this course had no real-world objectives, so the test was meaningless. Nobody who actually uses Word or Excell for a living would know the answers to these questions (I use these apps for a living and couldn't answer your example questions). Whoever created that test and doesn't deserve to teach.

        To the original poster's question: Again, what are the course objectives? Are you trying to teach them how to use computers to help with their homework (i.e., how to use Word and Excel)? Computer basics (i.e., ones and zeros, boolian logic, how a disk drive works, etc.)? Programming (LOGO, BASIC, flowcharting, basic problem solving)? What you're trying to teach will drive how to tell if they already know it.

    • I went to a school where I had to take TWO introductory courses before I could take the computer course - first a typing course (on typewriters - not computers) - and then an introductory course on 8086 machines that didn't have hard drives where we learned MS Works in DOS. Keep in mind that this was when 486-66 was the average machine, and some people had Pentiums. After taking the first two, I gave up. I was SO far above the level of the first two courses that I figured that I was ready for the fifth or sixth course in the series (which wasn't offered by this school).

      I graduated from high school in 1997 - just five years ago. I know the teachers that I had, and knowing what I know now I have to say that I don't think there's any way they could do the job. I also know a lot of new tech teachers haven't been hired at my old school. I doubt that they would get a competent teacher, either, as anyone who understands the subject won't be teaching it there. If they have to teach, there are many venues that have higher benefits for the teachers.

      If I wanted to teach high schoolers, I'd hire a bunch, show them the ropes and get them to work for me, and leave the education system out of it completely. I might make less with all the training I'd do, but it'd still be worth it more than the other way. Then I wouldn't have to deal with all of the red tape, the low pay, and those who don't want to learn - the things you find in the public school system.

      So what should the public schools do? Let the private sector handle it. Make sure that students know about their chances to do that. Then maybe everything they learn won't be on their own, like they were for me.
  • Why not give them 2 weeks of boring mind numbing drivel (Basic Computer 101) and then give them some choices as to what they want to pursue? Do this for the whole class, so you don't need to do any "testing" for your good or bad apples. Tests are bad m'kay!* Subjects to expand on: History and theory of computation. Computer Hardware. Networking. Programming. How to trolling on /. ;). Give them the first 2 weeks to give everyone a baseline, and then branch off into subgroups. *Don't mind me; I'm flunking out of college.
    • "Subjects to expand on: History and theory of computation. Computer Hardware. Networking. Programming."

      hmm... Sounds like the course I took over a whole semester (without networking, and hardly any hardware).
  • The generation of highschoolers skipping college and going directly into IT has come and gone, and lets see where its left us.. I, for one, am unemployed. By the time these kids graduate high school, it seems 9 out of every 10 kids is going to be some kind of systems admin/analyst/etc. Howsabout we concentrate on improving teh quality of our education instead of the quantity? I mean, its not like the USA is exactly at the forefront of education..
    • Read the question - they aren't asking how to PREPARE kids for these jobs. They want to know how to test for skills, like a CLEP / Placement exam for comp. skills.
      And besides, not everyone who recieves a computer education will be a sysadmin / analyst / CS Whatever right out of high school.

      As to the topic - check out the State of Virginia's "Standards of Learning" on Technology - don't have a link handy, but I'll try to post it in a follow up.

  • i find the best thing is self education, eg. go get yourself some programming books, write programs, look at major projects and see if you can make modifications, learn that way, you don't always need someone spoon feeding you, in fact you won't have someone there after you leave high school, now is a better time to start than ever!
  • by bakes ( 87194 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @04:45AM (#3206185) Journal
    If they are a just a little bit bored, get them to write a webserver in Perl.

    If they are really bored, get them to write it in Java.

    If they are exceptionally bored, get them to write a Linux VM - there should be plenty of work for everyone incorporating the 'advice' that everyone seems to have on the subject.

    In order to be a little bit useful - write a list of topics and get the students to rate themselves. They may not be as bright as they thought, or brighter than they thought, but you will get a good idea to start with.
    • Reminds me of when I got put with a class of 18 year olds & they started going through how to dimension an array etc - didn't have the heart to tell them I'd known that since I was six! Anyway in order not to frustrate the more advanced users don't insist on programs being only written in one language and then say it's because the board only accepts them in this language. I had a teacher say that to me about Visual Basic (when another another school doing exactly the same subject & board was using Delphi) when two of us wanted to program in c. If they get really bored they'll just hack the school network and get expelled (if caught) for it anyway.
  • When I started my course at TAFE it was all old hat and very boring, unfortnatley I was too lazy to do anything about it, how ever i could have. I would recommend leaving them for 2 or so weeks, if they are still bored after that give them a weeks worth of work from the grade up, if they can handle that keep giving them that work. Alternately you could just assign additional more complicated work for these students to complete, just make sure its recorded that they have done it.
  • Your explanation and question don't say what skills the kids are supposed to have at the end of the course. What are the objectives of the courses you offer? If you can clearly state the course objectives, then half of your pre-test would already be written. Just ask the students to complete tasks that they should be able to do at the end of the course(s), and make placement decisions based on how well they complete the requirements. Knowing your course objectives would also be necessary when selecting a computer-based programme for pre-testing, because the skills you are pre-testing for will have to match the skills you hope to transfer to the students.

    I am also curious to know what you mean by "IT." Do you mean the ability to use a word processing application to write an essay, the ability to use a browser and search tools to research the essay, or the skills required to put together dynamic content on the school's web site? Or, are you teaching advanced networking and C/C++/Java, etc. programming?

  • by Zarf ( 5735 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @06:33AM (#3206386) Journal
    What is "Computer Literate"? How do you determine if someone is "Computer Literate"?

    I'm seriously asking you seriously, not with any sarcasm. Does Computer Literate and Computer skills mean that they can make word documents? Does it mean they can use MS Outlook? (If it does, then I'm not computer literate because I've never used MS Outlook and never bothered learning MS Word. But, I can use Star Office and Netscape) I did find this paper [] which may be helpful and does address this question for you. I would seriously stress the idea of truly evaluating what using a computer really means. I think when you folks boil stuff down you'll end up teaching searching and researching techniques as well as basic e-mail concepts... really... the thought process behind forming a good search isn't intuitive to everyone it involves a very basic understanding of set theory and many poorly educated kids will have no clue what that means but it could be valuable to teach them.

    Think "Library Science" and you might be heading in the right direction for "Computer Literacy". Offer the course in an "at your own pace" format if you can. Make it so the smart kids can finish in a week and the not-so-smart can take a whole semester if they need to.

    As for more advanced IT topics, are you going to teach System Administration? Web Development? Programming? PC Repair and troubleshooting?

    As for programming I reccommend taht you consider Pre-Calc as a prerequisite. I've taught programming to students who hadn't been introduced to the concept of a "function" without the mental tool of the "function" in the student's head your programming instructor will have a hell of a time. Some of my student's didn't know what a variable was and it was very hard to progress past "Hello World" with those students... and this was a COLLEGE class... albiet the Adult Education section.

    • I think requiring pre-calculous as a prereq. is ridiculous. I know plenty of people (myself included) who suck at math but are still decent programmers. The concept of a function isn't that hard to grasp, and variables are taught in pre-algebra. So if the people you were teaching didn't understand functions and variables, I'd say they had other problems. You have to be reasonably intelligent to learn to program, but intelligence doesn't neccessarily equate to being good with math.
  • From the study guides I've browsed, it would seem that either A+ or some of the MCSE tests would help to separate the race horses from the turtles. There are several companies that offer this service, [] exams online is only the first I saw. here []is a whole list of good study guides.
  • Well, IT literacy does range quite a bit.

    I'd say any fourth form student that already has an MCSE is qualified to take some IT courses.

    OTOH, if they already have their CCNA you might let them skip the first couple of weeks of the course.

  • by bje2 ( 533276 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:30AM (#3207251)
    I'd have to say that more often then not, high school computer courses are a joke...i took all of the ones that were available at my high school...the first 2 were called "computer applications" which basically consisted of doing spreadsheets, or making microsoft word documents....both a total waste of time...but they were still prereqs for the only worthwile computer course we had...

    the only worthwile one was called "computer programming" or any case, i took the AP version of it, and it was well worth it...basically it was my first introduction to programming....they taught Turbo Pascal at that time (that was the AP standard)...i'm sure it's not any more...if anyone is wondering, i got a 5 on the AP test....

    in any case, the post brings up a good point...with kids getting more and more experience and exposure to computers at home, most high school level courses are a joke to them... i can't seriously see high schools being able to satisfy the different levels of students by offering a computer science curiculum with enough breadth for all the different students...perhaps high schools could continue offering the introductory courses for beginner students, and work out some sort of program where if more advanced students want to take higher level classes they work out something with the local community college, or local tech training center...a friend of mine in high school did something similiar to this...he had completed all the possible math courses in the high school, so for junior and senior year, he took class at the local community college instead...this could probably work well for computer courses too...

    well, just a thought...
    • Heh. In highschool we were asked to write a poker program using Quick Basic. Most people did ascii art, a few just printed numbers. Then, 4 of us teamed up and wrote a poker application with full mouse control, 640 x 480 bitmapped graphics, and it had the ability to play music (wav files) in the background (via timeslicing). To top it off we added a pretty good AI -- then multiplayer AI support which would talk to eachother about sports, news events, etc. You as the human could start conversations with them.

      Needless to say, it was no longer really a poker program, and had more creature feeping than nearly anything else around.

      The point of the story? If your bored, do what they ask plus some stuff to make it a challenge.
    • It may be that the lower level high school programming courses were a joke to you, but that certainly would not be the case for everyone. My high school offered 4 levels of CS courses. The bottom 3 were not really worthwhile for anyone who had any experience with computers, but there were no prerequisites for entering any level. I'm sure that the lower computer courses were helpful for some students who hadn't had access to technology before, though....

      Btw, I also took AP CS in my junior year of high school, 4 years ago. It really wasn't a bad course (it was taught in C++ at the time). I had had some exposure to programming previously in BASIC and C so it wasn't that big a leap for me, but the curriculum did include some really useful stuff like some of the basic STL containers and rudimentary algorithm analysis. The teacher sucked, but self paced students could still learn by taking some initiative to read books (I read the first book on data structures I ever read in that class, and the teacher let me work on my own projects when I finished projects that took most students a week in 30 minutes.)

      I think that most CS classes in high school will display a very wide range in the abilities of the individual students. The best solution, in my opinion, is to be flexible in the curriculum so that students can pace themselves. Those who really are advanced will be able to engage in self-learning.

  • I'm not sure of any software in specific to test computer skills, but I found this link [] to a North Carolina State Board of Education page about what they put in thier computer skills tests. It gives an explanation of content with some of their sample questions. Not sure if this is what you had in mind though. I found it to be quite interesting.

    My own ideas on the subject are that I know how to use Word and other Office applications for what I need them for and that's it. I'm sure that's the same boat the kids are in. But I don't know all the little nuances and specifics that a class might teach them. For instance, in a class I learned to use mail merge. I'd never use that in my day to day life, but that skill turned out to be somewhat helpful in an office setting where I could help the admin assistants with their duties.

    Sure, it might be a bit boring, but everyone now and then they'd pick up on a new concept. If they know everything that you're teaching already, I'd say let them work ahead and finish all the projects for the term and then start to work on a project of their choice in something a little more interesting, such as programming, web site design, etc. Do make sure they do the work that everybody else has to do. That makes it seem fair to the other kids.
  • Having been exposed to computers at the ripe old age of 8, I had a great deal of experiance by the time I hit high school. There was one computer teacher who was a former chemistry teacher. I hadn't had much experiance with macs at the time, but by the end of that first semester I learned all the teacher knew and then some about macs and novell networks. The rest of my time there ended up being mostly self study work and support. I was well known around campus for fixing and installing computers and the like. I learned a lot more like that than I could have had I been forced into some project by a teacher. I learned a bit of PERL and Pascal, very basic networking (I helped install network wiring in the school), and all kinds of other things that I take for granted now.

    So, my advice is to let the students do what they want. Make them come up with projects to do (or ones that they're already working on). I remember my last project before I left was installing linux and learning how to do everything I have been doing in that environment. I am no longer afraid to install linux in a box that has no easy way to mount the install media :-) My next project is to install gentoo on my 486DX2/50 lappy with no CD-Rom drive and a network card that isn't supported by the default kernel. Doesn't that sound like fun?

FORTRAN is the language of Powerful Computers. -- Steven Feiner