Reaching Young Learners with IBM KidSmart

By Kitty Wu

Five IBM volunteers and I recently traveled from Shanghai to the Jiangxi Province city of Jinggangshan (population 156,000) to deliver and install 10 KidSmart early learning computer systems at two local Kindergartens. KidSmart is designed to help young children explore math and science concepts through interactive games. The systems also give many young learners their first exposure to computer equipment – technology that will play an essential role in their educational, personal and professional lives in the 21st Century.

IBM volunteers assemble KidSmart computer learning centers
IBM volunteers assemble KidSmart computer learning centers

We used to outsource KidSmart delivery and installation, and then conduct teacher training in Beijing. But this time IBM volunteers did the set up, making use of the IBM On Demand Community Introduce KidSmart Early Learning Activity Kit. It took five of us six hours to assemble the 10 KidSmart units, but it was worth it to spend that time on-site with our clients – the young learners and their teachers.

After assembling the units, our next challenge was helping the kids overcome their shyness about using them. Not surprisingly, we found that the best way to break the ice with the children was to be warm and welcoming. As such, I became their “sister Rabbit” (“Big Sister”) as I answered their questions and encouraged them to experiment and learn for themselves. By doing this, I broke away from the traditional Chinese way of teaching in which students are trained to memorize a specific “correct” answer. For example, while using a KidSmart map-routing game, I let the children decide which routes to choose as a way of learning more about maps and directions.

The author coaches young learners to explore using KidSmart
The author coaches young learners to explore using KidSmart

As the day progressed, the children became more confident and started to ask questions as they explored the KidSmart games. From the children’s teachers, we heard that the KidSmart units had given the young learners unique opportunities to experience a technology-focused education that encouraged independent thinking. The teachers in this rural area also commended us for installing the equipment ourselves and for spending so much quality time encouraging the children.

We left the schools with the sense that we had done more than simply installing some computer equipment. The responses from the children and their teachers indicated to us that we had delivered some real and lasting value. In addition to the innovative KidSmart computer skills learning centers, we also left the children with the confidence and curiosity they will need to keep exploring and learning.

Kitty Wu is a Project Leader at the IBM Global Procurement Center in Shanghai, and President of the IBM East China Volunteer Association.

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