Children and Technology

Happy New Year to you all!!

I hope you had a great Christmas holiday. We had a lovely time, though it did seem to be very tech laden 2 weeks despite my best efforts to get us all away from computers and gadgets.

My children are really starting to get in to technology now. My youngest son (age 6) got Minecraft for Christmas and so we spent a lot of time trying to work out what was going on!? My husband received 2 Raspberry Pis (bad present co-ordination!) – maybe these offered too much of a busman’s holiday for him because he spent the entire week hiding from the PC and doing Sudoko puzzles…

…it is possible to enjoy yourself without technology over Christmas

…it is possible to enjoy yourself over Christmas without technology.

Anyway, a post Christmas lunch discussion with the in-laws got me thinking about how I really feel about the relationship between my children and technology. So apologies that this post doesn’t directly relate to remote working but I hope some of you find it useful and/or interesting.

My children don’t have a huge amount of technical kit of their own, they share a Wii and the two girls (aged 9 and 11) have an iPod touch each. They all have access to a PC, though we monitor use. They also see laptops, iPads and Macs in action (i.e. they can have a go but don’t own them).

My two girls tend to use their iPods to play games, make movies and listen to music. It is purely a leisure tool, and while they are a lot more computer savvy than my parents they aren’t doing anything ground breaking with their kit. I’d like my children to be rounded individuals who are lucky enough to experience lots of different aspects of life. Although they aren’t very outdoorsy they are pretty in to sport (dance, swimming, tae-kwondo), reading, art, playing, and music. However technology is an important part of life these days so there is no point in running away from it. Both my husband and I work in a tech world and I’d like my children to have good technical skills – these will help them whatever career they choose.

So basically I’d like to my children to use the time they spend on technical devices in a more productive way. Time to move on from Angry birds and in to a good understanding of how technology and computer programming works.

Scratch Cat

Scratch Cat

Last year my oldest started looking at Scratch. Created by MIT it allows children (or adults) to create interactive stories, games, and animations and share them. It does this through teaching the basics of object orientated programming – so children start to learn the concepts behind software. It’s a great tool.

Over Christmas I also stumbled upon Learn an hour of code: “a non-profit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science education by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color“. Over a week in December last year they tried to encourage everyone in the US, from children to OAPs, to spend an hour coding. The site offers some amazing resources including links to a whole set of hour-long tutorials. My children loved the games on Tynker.com. There are also great tutorials available using Light-bot and API Inventor.

I thought it might be useful if I listed some of the other tools we’ve tried out recently or have on our to-do list. I’d also like to mention some great initiatives that have sprung up looking at getting children into programming and beyond.

Kids programming tools

I discovered quite a lot a few of these tools while at the Mozilla Festival last year, here’s a post I wrote about education at MozFest.

  • Scratch: As mentioned before, a great starter tool with some really good tutorials.
  • Chrunchzilla: Has tools for younger kids and teenagers, helps by offering interactive tutorials where kids and adults can play with code, experiment, build, and learn.
  • Robotmind: By programming a robot, students learn about logic, computer science and robotics.
  • Minecraft.edu: Site looking at how Minecraft can be used in schools.
  • Mozilla tools including Thimble (helps you write html), Xray Goggles (grab tool that allows you to hide elements of a web page) and Popcorn Maker (allows editing of video). Hackosaurus has lots of ideas on how to use the tools.
  • Isla: a programming language for children, by Marie Rose Cook, beginner-friendly.
  • Squeakland eToys: An educational tool for teaching children powerful ideas in compelling ways.
  • Waterbear: Based on Scratch but for a variety of different programming languages.
  • Ruby for kids: As it says – a way for kids to learn Ruby!
  • Microsoft Small basic: Some of the examples are a bit complex but there is a nice curriculum to follow if needed

From

From Chrunchzilla

I can also recommend Computer Science unplugged that has a heap of free printable activities that teach computing concepts. We had a go at the binary puzzles over the holiday.

Wikipedia has a list of programming languages simple enough to be used by children – I haven’t tried any of these yet…

Kids programming initiatives

Here are some other code for kids initiatives (quite a few of these ideas came from a discussion that took place on the OKFN discuss list related to gender bias in technology and open data for kids):

  • Make Things Do Stuff: The Mozilla campaign and website aimed at mobilising the next generation of digital makers through kid-friendly events and actions.
  • TechEU: A site that looks at all the learn-to-code initiatives and other noteworthy computer programming education projects across Europe.
  • Code Club: A nationwide (UK) network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 – unfortunately none near me :-(
  • Prewired: Recently launched club for kids in Edinburgh, inspired by the Young Rewired State Festival of Code.
  • Logo: Foundation to encourage children’s computer skills, US based.
  • Young Rewired State: An independent global network of kids aged 18 and under who have taught themselves to program computers, not really for beginners.
  • Jugend Hackt: Aspin-off of Young Rewired State, organized by OKF Germany – in German.
  • Hackidemia: A global network that designs workshops and kits enabling kids to use curiosity, play, and empathy to solve global challenges. It tends to be more hardware and is beginner-friendly.
  • Hive Learning Network: A New York based learning lab that engages youth around innovation, digital media and web-making – lots of projects and resources.
  • CoderDojo: The open source, volunteer led, global movement of free coding clubs for young people. Utilises dojos as a location.
  • Dwengo: Spin-off of a student group, focuses on promoting learning (adults and children) about microcontrollers / robots.
  • Forum voor Informaticawetenschappen a platform in Flanders started by (mostly) teachers wanting to improve the level of IT-education at school – in Flemish.

So have you got any ideas you could add?

6 thoughts on “Children and Technology

  1. The national curriculum has lots more programming in it from sept this year, so this exciting stuff should start growing in schools. There are lots of great apps available too (hopscotch, Kodable etc), but the important thing is what children are learning from this and I don’t mean just how to code! Most children won’t grow up to be engineers, although they may well come into contact with programming/coding in a wider sense. By getting involved with this now they’ll learn about identifying & solving problems, working together, breaking down big problems into smaller ones, logical problem solving & learning from mistakes. That’s without even starting in all the spoken & written language, mathematical reasoning, design & evaluation skills they’ll pick up & develop. Go for it & get involved as a family. Make projects together & have fun :)

  2. Thanks for the comments Emma – I’m glad to hear that the curriculum is changing for the better. I did some lesson observations of ICT classes a few years back and was shocked by what I saw – uninspiring lessons taught by teachers who weren’t IT specialists and who admitted to me that they hated IT. There was no innovation, no use of mobile, no enthusiasm.

    Someone has also pointed out this excellent list of resources which includes links to MOOCs on code and books on programming for children.
    Teach kids programming by Appa. (I also love the picture of the ZX Spectrum – this was my first computer too!!)

  3. Great post, thanks Marieke. Couple of things: first off, I’m at last getting really into my RPI – I’d highly recommend getting a camera (about £20) – it kinda makes the thing real, and useful: current project for me is going to be putting together a timelapse and leaving it on the cliffs to see the tide come in and out… :-)

    Second thing: I’m really into coding, and improving kids competencies in this area – and I’m really up for all the initiatives that are going on right now. But: I’ve also got a bit of a worry that there’s a bit of IT which is going to get missed out. In schools right now (apart from the really progressive ones) kids are still being taught Word and Excel. They’re not being taught how to connect a laptop to wifi, or what a “browser” is, or how to use Google, cloud services, what the risks and benefits of these are, etc. If anyone thinks our kids will be using Word or Excel in 10 years time they should look seriously hard at the rate of change we’ve experienced in our lifetimes..

    Schools seem to be really hot on online safety (and this is obviously a really good thing..) but the wider “IT competency” stuff is – I think – pretty weak. This isn’t a criticism of schools – I think they’re often doing a blinding job in this area. It’s a wider criticism of a society who has a tendency to use the “I’m not a geek, I don’t know anything about computers” as an excuse not to dabble. And I guess I can see a situation where a bunch of kids learn how to code (which is great) but the vast majority still don’t know how to troubleshoot their computer at home. Which isn’t so great…

  4. Thanks for the Raspberry Pi tips Mike – we’ve yet to get it out the box! Planning to set aside Saturday afternoon – know these things can be a time drain! ;-)

    My daughter (age 9) came back from school yesterday and told me she’d been learning spreadsheets and that it was the “most boring lesson ever!” I felt her pain having spent a couple of days just before Christmas filling in an end of year EU project finance report! Spread sheets are useful, and so is basic accountancy. I don’t know what we’ll be using in 10 years time for EU project reporting but I do know that whatever it is it could never make it fun! Anyway a bit of spreadsheets never hurt anyone but I agree with you that it’s the basics that are missing. The basics and the inspiration.

    That’s why I really liked the Computer Science unplugged stuff. At MozFest we participated in “The Orange Game” which basically taught us about routing and how you can end up in deadlock. (See this post by Knightlab – http://knightlab.northwestern.edu/2013/11/08/knight-labs-mozfest-2013-wrap-up-and-link-o-rama/ – under ‘Sunday’). And hopefully they’ll start using RPIs more too.

    When people ask what I do for a job I never know what to say… Sometimes I say “computer stuff”. But computer stuff can mean anything. I like the communication aspect, the networking, the use of information….my husband is more into programming and back end stuff, other people are good at the visual aspects. We don’t all have to be good at it all. But we do need to have young people learning stuff and being inspired. Our jobs didn’t exist when we were young, and the majority of jobs that our kids will go for don’t exist now. But bets on that if they know nowt about technology then they are going to have a tough time out there in the job world.

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