Today I gave a presentation to 120 4th graders, as a participant in Career Day at Lowell Elementary School in Long Beach, California. I covered some general intarweb topics, places I had worked, and then talked about Mozilla, Firefox and open-source software.

You can download my slides here. Obviously, some topics were presented in a very simplified manner.

I did 3 presentations, to groups of 30-50 kids. I started the presentation by taking a survey ("Raise your hand if..."), then ran through my slides, and then took questions. Here are some observations from the day:

  • All of the kids had used a computer (they have a computer lab at the school).
  • Almost all of the kids said they had used the internet, and surfed the web.
  • About half of the kids said they used email.
  • About a quarter of the kids said that they used IM, and those kids were *really* excited about it.
  • Though almost every kid said they surfed the web, when I asked if they knew what a "browser" was, only a couple kids knew. However, I know that they actually *were* surfing the web because of the questions that they asked. It seemed that the browser was a piece of infrastructure that blended into their general computer experience.
  • They really didn't understand the difference between an internet connection and internet browser. When I said Firefox was free, some kids thought that meant they could get online for free.
  • Anywhere from 5-10 kids in each group had heard of Firefox.
  • 1-2 kids in each group had heard of "open-source".
  • The kids knew of viruses and phishing. They didn't understand what they were, but knew that they were bad, and from the internet.
  • The kids knew about MySpace, and were scared of predators. For real. In each group, someone brought up MySpace, and *always* in the context of a news story they saw on TV about how some creepy guy was trying to hook up with teenage girls. Local news must be pushing this story.
  • Computing in public education means Mac OS8 and Netscape Communicator. And we live in an *affluent* area. It was crazy to be talking to a group of kids who all knew about Netscape and *not* Firefox.
  • Games! The boys all played games via websites, and wanted to tell me all about them. The only game brought up by a girl was WOW.
  • They thought the Firefox logo was cool. They thought the Mozilla logo was cooler :) Especially the boys. Several started grilling me on the anatomical incorrectness of the dinosaur: "If it's from the pleocistene family it'd have a bump on it's head and the nostrils would be in a different place." I had no response to that.
  • The kids all knew what "non-profit" meant, and each group had at least one of these kids: "How does Mozilla make any money??!!". Long discussions about the economics of search referrals and advertising ensued.
  • The kids liked "free", and they only grokked "freedom" when I asked a kid's name, and said he could take the source code and make his own "JakobBrowser" if he wanted. They loved that.

Overall, the kids seemed conversationally literate about the internet, more so than I was expecting. There was a general feeling that the internet was cool, but to be feared. They were definitely interested in Firefox, and asked where they could download it. They loved the Firefox stickers I gave out. Tons of thanks to Marcia, who got me more stickers on short notice (I originally thought I was only presenting to my daughter's class).