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teach critical thinking with computer viruses

In this post:

  • How to teach students critical thinking skills via computer viruses.

I taught the ever evolving topic I dubbed, “Digital Truth” to my Montessori Informatics students when I worked the duel role of IT director & teacher at MAEL. It was important to me that I helped students understand Internet culture. The only way to protect kids from something is to help them understand it. On one hand you can teach how amazing it is that we now have the world’s information at our fingertips, then on the other you can show how easy it is to get scammed by someone or something online.

Part of the fun of the lesson for me was I’d setup virtual machines on every computer I built in the computer lab. Which completely eliminates the risk to the actual computer, but the students were none the wiser. They thought they were being given permission to actually break the computer.

The main part of the lesson was to walk them through an actual virus installation process. We’d first navigate to a freeware site that I had previously scoped out & tested. We’d then navigate to the giant DOWNLOAD button vibrating on the page. The anxiety filled the room as they downloaded the file and began installing the software. During the installation they’d get to see the trickery. Most freeware online comes with pre-checked bloatware and viruses.

Then after we finished installing all of the harmful things, which many of the students were continually nervous to do, we’d fix the virtual machine.

I knew these basic skills would help them challenge what was presented to them as normal. The metaphor being in people blindly clicking Next on an installation process.

It’s important we don’t feed children our bias agendas. They need to be able to decipher truth and make their own choices along the way. Part of lessons like this are to help them be skeptical of the systems adults have already put in place and will be interacting with for the first time.

Then in making mistakes, knowing they can trial & error troubleshoot their own problems back to normal — it’s an incredible skill to have. Ever notice that primary difference between someone capable of troubleshooting something simply comes down to patience?

Scams like the computer virus have continued to evolve. In the US, adults are overwhelmed with scam callers that are both people & robots, phishing emails with malicious links, propaganda news stations disguised as unbiased sources, clickbait article headlines people comment on without reading the nuance inside, and everything being wrapped up in sensationalism with it’s only intent being to upset you & tell you what you’re supposed to feel.

As a result, we have a lot of work to do to protect our kids from the overwhelming barrage of bullshit that’s going to be thrown at them on a daily basis. We need creative lessons that show them how these things are made, how you can be manipulated by them, and how you can counteract them with some common sense & patience.

It isn’t being political to teach them the truth. It’s giving them the skills they need to survive and avoid having their minds lost to propaganda, their money lost to scams, and their devices lost to viruses.