Free Intel Learning kit good for teachers & kids

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Toronto Computes, May 1998

The Journey Inside: The Computer
Intel Corporation
free to Grade 4-9 teachers

You don?t need to know how a car or a TV works in order to use them. Put the key in the ignition, turn, and go. Click on the remote control.

Similarly, most of us are reasonably comfortable performing complex tasks on a computer without really having much of an idea of what?s going on inside the box.

Despite that, some of us need to know what?s going on in there. After all, somebody?s got to design and build these machines, don?t they?

Intel is the company that designs, builds, and markets over 80% of the central processing units (CPUs) that power the world?s computers. They?re aware that for continued growth, they?ll need a continuing supply of trained and skilled people. And they know that the first steps towards ensuring that supply have to take place in the public schools, where even at the elementary grades, students need to be exposed to computers. And not just getting to use computers, but also getting the beginnings of an understanding of how computers work? a task made more difficult since most teachers, like most of the rest of us, are more than little vague on the details.

The company is trying to help teachers get past the mystery of the beige box.

They?ve recently released the third generation of a free kit ?The Journey Inside: The Computer, aimed at teachers of grades four through nine, and first distributed to over 3,500 Canadian teachers in 1994. Available to teachers, by phoning Intel at 1-800-346-3029, The Journey Inside consists of  three components. There?s a teachers guide (including handouts and overheads) and a teachers video. A classroom video includes 8 different 8-10 minute lessons. And there?s a hands-on kit, allowing students to build circuits and begin to get a hands-on understanding of the basics of computer technology.

All the parts required for the electronics projects are included?switches, LED lights, transistors. This is one kit where batteries are definitely included?seemingly enough batteries to outfit a Radio Shack outlet. In addition, (my favorite) there?s a collection of actual computer elements in the package?a real Pentium chip, and even a silicon wafer?a step in the manufacture of several dozen CPUs. (These are parts that failed the reliability tests, but are valuable in letting teachers and students get their hands on the real thing, helping to make computers less mysterious).

The electronic parts, video tapes, printed materials, packaging and shipping adds up to a couple of hundred dollars per kit, according to Intel-Canada?s Doug Cooper, who hopes to be able to get copies of the latest edition into the hands of about 7,000 Canadian teachers.

The lessons are well-designed, each including a basic lesson, and a more advanced extension lesson, allowing teachers to easily adapt the material to the level of their students. Each lesson is designed to take about a half hour of classroom time.The package starts off with an introduction to computers, then looks at circuits and switches as the basis of computing. It continues by introducing the important concept of digital information, leading to an examination of microprocessors, and how chips are created. Finally, it moves on to examine networks, look at the impact of technology on society, and ends with a view of the future.

Many parents and teachers are understandably uneasy about corporate penetration of the classroom; while the package clearly identifies itself as an Intel project, no one need fear it as brainwashing our children. The material itself does not extol Intel or its products, and is equally as usable in classrooms with non-Intel computers like Macs (or in classrooms with no computers at all).

Hats off to Intel for producing and distributing this well thought-out and well-implemented package, and for making it freely available to teachers.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan