Intel's Computer Clubhouses - Where IT meets the community

The Intel-sponsored Computer Clubhouses provide at-risk students with the opportunity to engage with other students and diverse mentors to not only learn about computer technology but also to apply what they learn to real-world issues.

What began as a small partnership with the MIT Media Lab in the Boston Museum of Science is now an international network of so-called Computer Clubhouses providing safe, out of school learning opportunities for 25,000 students per year from underserved communities in 20 different countries around the world. What's fascinating about the Compter Clubhouses, though, is not that they're teaching kids how to use computers. Rather, they're teaching kids to use computers to solve social problems and create compelling content.

This past weekend, the Computer Clubhouse Network brought together students from all over the world for a Teen Summit in Boston where young people could share the work they are doing in their individual Clubhouses. The Clubhouses themselves, sponsored largely by Intel, use constructivist learning principles to engage students in a wide variety of computing projects and provide a safe learning environment in communities where after-school programs are often quite limited. As described in the Computer Clubhouse website,

The Clubhouse is filled with creative tools, creative people, and the time to explore. Beyond “learning-by-doing,” it’s “learning-by-designing.” When young people first visit the Clubhouse, they are able to choose among introductory exploration activities, including designing their own dream house, mixing their own digitized music, experimenting with image processing and building a robot. As they continue their involvement in the Clubhouse program, participants begin to develop more in-depth projects, either individually or as part of a project group. Over time groups of projects become portfolios which can support college and career ambitions.

I had the opportunity to talk with a young man named Brandon David before he left Chicago for his first trip out of Illinois to the Teen Summit. Brandon is a member of the Howard Area Computer Clubhouse and, although he has only been involved for a year, has already created an original video game in Scratch called Bomberman 3D and rendered his own characters in Animation Master.

His latest game is so extensive that he can no longer host it on MITs Scratch community servers. As Brandon put it,

Because of the Clubhouse, I work harder in school. I’m one of the smartest students in my class and I’m class president. College students are learning how to do the things I'm doing now.

If only it were that easy for all of our at-risk kids, right?

The theme this year for the Teen Summit is "Mobilize, Act, Inspire!" Clearly, Brandon is inspired (and inspired me to break out Scratch again to see where the software stands and think about new ways to use it with students). Yet the students attending the summit are taking the theme several steps further. According to the Summit coordinators,

The youth will share ideas, learn new skills, and work together on projects that address socially conscious challenges such as reducing urban violence and improving the environment.

The students are making videos, animations, broadcasts, and websites dealing with these themes. As Gail Breslow, Intel Computer Clubhouse Network director, explained,

“The goals of the Teen Summit are to inspire Computer Clubhouse youth not only to build hands-on fluency in technology but also to become self-motivated, confident learners through collaborative experiences that spark their interest, expand life skills, and help them become global citizens.

For some views of the Summit, check out the gallery here.

And if you happen to live near a Computer Clubhouse, it just might be worth a phone call to see if they could use another mentor to support this extraordinary program. Talk back below if you were able to attend the Summit or have been involved with Computer Clubhouse network.