Well I have to tell this story because I had a great day today. I was asked to come into my son’s 1st grade class and talk about what exactly I do where I work. I admit when I was first asked, I hesitated because I thought – wow how could a 1st grader (here in the US this is 6&7 year olds) understand pharmaceutical research with cheminformatics, bioinformatics, and all this kind of sutff. Nevertheless I said ok and agreed to come in a talk for an hour or so about what I do.
I thought about this quite a bit and I experimented with my own son – 7 years old – I showed him how to break down a hard drive, take it apart, and look at all the pieces. He was fascinated! Decision made; I would bring in a computer and teach 1st graders how to take apart a computer and show them all about the internals. Our victim would be a Dell MT-530 dual Xeon 2.x GHz machine with a 4x125GB SCSI RAID config, an Nvidia Quaadro card, 2GB of RAM, and A CD-R and a CD-ROM drive. A nice machine, but past its prime now…but a powerful and good example of a computer.
So I arrived for class at 8:30 sharp, greeting the class, and had a few short slides about where I work. Then is was down to business. I had two machines with me, an older RLX server blade (the original server blade pioneer!) and the Dell. Using the RLX blade I could show all of the parts to the kids and pass it around so they could see and compare to the Dell as we took it apart. I brought a full set of tools in case we needed it.
These kids were very excited! They loved this exercise. With the Dell they could see everything easily, stick their hands in and ask lots of questions. I was really surprised about how much they enjoyed looking at the parts and really asking good questions about the boards and how the machine works. It really made me feel good that they were interested and that they could ask good questions like:
- Why are there little blocks on the bottom of a Xeon CPU in the middle with the pins all around?
- What are these little pins and plastic thingies (jumpers) on the hard drive?
- What’s this grey gooey stuff on the “brain”?
- What are all these numbers? One kid actually asked about the test pins on the SCSI controller card of a hard drive! So cool!
- Don’t you think this looks like a Star Wars Imperial Star destroyer? Ha! That is just FANTASTIC! He was asking about how the network card looked when viewed on an angle…and he is right on!
Can you imagine saying this when you were a kid? For me something electronic might have been a diode radio kit. Wow! Really cool – it was really fun because they cared. You could really feel their energy and excitement. After working in the professional industry for a long time its easy to get tired. I found this very energizing and it really made me feel like these younger kids cared about this stuff. So if anyone ever asks you to do something similar –> grab the chance and do it. You won’t regret it.
I’d like to thank the 1st graders and their teacher for letting me come in and show them all the “guts” of how a computer works. I really had fun!