Updated: Jan 13
See the grin on my son Ethan’s face in the photo below?
You can’t get rid of that.
The photo is blurry and there are finger-prints on the TV screen but I don't care. I'm sharing this imperfect photo of a perfect memory I want to be always able to recall.
This was a long-awaited moment; a moment of pure joy, when the PC he’d researched for months, designed and built from scratch was turned on for the first time...and worked!
It’s well known and widely discussed that fifteen year old boys are full of hormones, attitude and insecurities BUT what’s not spoken about enough (in my humble opinion) is that teenage boys (and girls for that matter) are also full of dreams, creative ideas and abilities that take our breath away if we are willing to collaborate with and support them.
At the beginning of 2020, (year 10 equivalent for Ethan), we discussed the kinds of things he might like to spend his time doing throughout the next 12 months. When I asked Eth if he had any ideas for a Design and Technology style project he might be interested in, he would often shrug his shoulders telling me he just had no idea what he could do.
I'm ok with that. It's an honest place from which to start.
One of our primary jobs as parents (regardless of the age and stage of our children) is to facilitate our kiddos' learning. What does this look like in practical terms? And isn't it harder to do this through the highschool years rather than in primary school? I'm often asked about this.
Here's how it played out for us with this son of ours in this stage of his learning. For our older 2 kiddos it looked different but this blog post is about Ethan so I'm sticking to the PC example for now.
PAIRING PASSIONS WITH OUTCOMES
I always have a look at the broad Stage statements/outcomes for the KLA's (key learning areas) our kids have chosen. For Design and Technology, some of the Stage 5 outcomes included things like investigating, analysing and applying a range of concepts and design processes, developing ideas and solutions. The outcomes called for him to demonstrate skills in innovation and enterprise in his project work along with developing documentation. In layman's terms this to us meant that he'd work on a project from concept all the way through, trouble-shooting ideas as he went, thinking up solutions to problems and noting down his ideas in a journal.
OBSERVING A CHILD'S PASSIONS AND INTERESTS
After spending time observing what Ethi was interested in (what he talked about a lot, read about and spent time wanting to do), I noticed that he was really fascinated by gaming and programming (even though our kids really have had very little exposure to what would be considered popular gaming ie: they've never played Fortnite or similar games). Ethan had however enjoyed completing a few programming online short courses through Coursera and was fascinated by how computers worked.
GIVING CHOICE & FACILITATING LEARNING
Presenting options to our children and giving them choices helps to give them a sense of control, ownership of ideas and freedom to experiment. These are all amazing learning opportunities on their own.
I suggested to Ethan that he might want to think about building his own gaming PC from scratch using second hand parts from the local tip or op-shop. We discussed this with Dad and decided that building one from scratch with brand new components would be easier first time round and would guarantee that if there were problems with parts, they could be reordered or refunded etc. Just discussing this one part of the project went for a few days with us all speaking about pros and cons of both options. Talking like this has always built amazing rapport with our kiddos and helped them to see we value their ideas and thoughts.
As parents, all we are ever really doing is facilitating our kids' learning. Let's be honest, I don't know SQUAT about building a PC! I don't know a CPU from a RAM stick (are they the same thing?!) hahaha but what I do know is that by facilitating the chance for Ethan to build his PC, it has been reinforced to him that he has parents who believe in him, support his interests and giftings and will advocate for him to see his ideas come to fruition.
RESEARCHING, MAKING COMPARISONS & DISCUSSING COMPATIBILITY
Researching the parts needed, the purposes of individual components, making comparisons between manufacturing companies and discussing compatibility of parts were all key skills in the building of Ethan's PC. He had to really assess which parts would work together well (like having the right kind of fan to go near the CPU for instance which would keep it from overheating).
He watched A LOT of YouTube videos to decide HOW to build the PC. He gleaned from these videos that there were several steps that different people seemed to have in common so he made notes in his journal about these. Then, at Dad's suggestion, he went on to a website which sold the components individually and dropped them all into a shopping cart, printing off the list. He was discussing this learning process with a family member who very kindly offered to buy some of the parts so that he could get started on his project. This was an amazing blessing and he was so thrilled. He wrote a thank you letter and popped it in the post (another example of real life-learning - practicing expressing gratitude). Ethan also evaluated safety and care when handling parts and used his prior knowledge of electrical currents and safe practices around electricity to make sure he was working safely at all times.
Ethan knew the whole way along that if he was overwhelmed he could chat to us about the process and ask for help. We would often ask leading questions of him like, "How are you feeling about the process?" or "Do you feel it's all coming together mate or do you need help with anything?" This always helped him to know he had collaborative allies in us who were cheering him on and were ready to support him getting the help he needed to trouble-shoot the next step of the project-journey. Ethan completed roughly 98% of this project by himself (with a little help from Dad towards the end stage).
SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT
Today after plugging it in and turning on the PC for the first time with the family gathered around, Ethan said that he felt so proud of his efforts and had a real sense of achievement. He said he felt that all his efforts researching and all the time taken to ensure he didn't break any parts in the assembly process meant he really felt like he had accomplished something special.
THE JOURNEY REALLY IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THE END RESULT
Our fifteen year old built a gaming PC from scratch and that is a big achievement BUT it's not the only thing of value that came out of this process.
The value of collaboration, of building rapport and communication skills, of problem solving, of developing passions, of documenting and discerning the importance of parts, of working to a budget, of compromising on costs and not quality, of research of documentation, of patience and making good choices - the value of these things can not really be measured.
They can however be seen in the smile of a very happy and satisfied fifteen year old and to me, that is of immeasurable value.
I'd love to hear about any projects your teens have been immersed in this year.