With a sporty race car in mind, 10-year-old Miguel Quechol moved his index finger across the laptop's touchpad to draw a red rectangle on the screen. He added a roof, headlights and tires. His creation seemed ready to roar to life when he painted on the final touch, a swath of exhaust fumes spewing from the car's tailpipe.
"I have a computer at home, but I usually download music," said Miguel, a sixth-grader at Lansdowne Middle School Center for Career and Professional Studies. "I want to find a program like this at home to play."
But the lesson wasn't just about playing with computers.
Miguel and dozens of other sixth-graders were working one day this week with computer programmers from an area company to learn about technology jobs. The children's introduction to the computer field - one of many careers they are expected to explore this school year - was an example of the experiences arranged to pique their interest.
Later this month, they are scheduled to visit a local hardware store for a closer look at the retail and construction industries.
Funded in 2004 with a three-year federal grant, Lansdowne's magnet program is geared toward helping children think about their futures. The school was renamed last year to reflect its magnet status.
"We're giving students opportunities to find out what careers are out there that might match up with what they like to do," said Amy E. Jubb, the school's magnet coordinator. She said sixth-graders fill out a 108-question survey to help teachers identify pupils' interests.
This week, Resham Verma, a senior Web developer at Hunt Valley-based System Source, showed the pupils how to design a car, create a racetrack and then program the car to drive itself around the course and stay within the track's boundaries.
"A few of them picked up a little bit," she said. "This is more for kids who are interested in math and computers and design."
Bob Roswell, co-owner and vice president of System Source, said his company has been working with students for three years to encourage them to consider computer careers. Roswell and Verma were joined by two of the company's technical employees, including a systems engineer.
"It's a way of hopefully sparking interest," Roswell said.
The magnet program, which will formally include eighth-graders next year, focuses on a different aspect of career preparation in each grade, Jubb said.
Sixth-graders take field trips and have classroom visits with professionals to learn about various occupations. Last year, for example, Jubb took pupils to see a play. At the end of the play, the pupils had a question-and-answer session with the actors to ask about working in the theater. On another field trip, they observed a session of the state House of Delegates and then quizzed local legislative leaders about their daily routines.
Seventh-graders participate in a microsociety, creating a microcosm of the real world within the school's boundaries. Pupils work such jobs as bankers, lawyers and judges and earn fake money that they spend in the microsociety's marketplace.
Starting next school year, eighth-graders will learn more about the four academies - business/finance, health/human services, science/engineering/information technology and arts/communication - that are available at Lansdowne High School and decide if they want to attend that school.
Jubb said the school isn't expecting children to make lifelong decisions about careers.
"We want to give them opportunities to see what's out there in the world and realistically how to get there," she said.
In another classroom at Lansdowne Middle this week, several sixth-graders in groups of four or five dismantled computers and attempted to reassemble them. They learned such terms as motherboard, expansion slot, and central processing unit.
At one table, 11-year-olds Shamir Mills, Kristen White and Derek Smith, along with 12-year-old Tawon Boyd, were elbow-deep into a computer's innards as they tried to match up about a dozen parts with their original homes.
Shamir looked puzzled as he held a bundle of red, black and white wires and wondered aloud about where he should put the bundle. Kristen said her smaller hands could more easily reach the spot.
"It was easier taking the computer apart, but it's more fun putting it back together," she said, "because it recharges your brain."