Barely a day goes by at the moment without the launch of some new piece of tech aimed at getting kids excited about coding. And at increasingly young ages. Schools are placing more and more importance on coding in education, particularly in the UK. To the point that the teaching and understanding of code is now woven into the educational fabric of the curriculum for children as young as four. And if you haven’t heard the term ‘edtech’ before, you surely will soon.
The past 12 months alone has seen a number of interesting and innovative edtech products and initiatives come onto the market and has even seen the reintroduction and reinvention of the BBC’s 1980’s Micro computer – now known as the micro:bit.
The micro:bit is a handheld, fully programmable computer, 70 times smaller and 18 times faster than it’s predecessor. Earlier this year it was given to every Year 7 (age 12) or equivalent child across the UK.
This tiny computer, developed by the brilliant people at Technology Will Save Us, allows young coders to construct robots, sensors, scoreboards, musical instruments and much more. It can also be connected to a Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Galileo or Kano, increasing and expanding its potential.
The micro:bit can be programmed via web based editing environments on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone via an app. The commands can then be uploaded via Bluetooth.
There’s plenty of technical support for the micro:bit on either the BBC’s website or through online communities, technical educators and learning partners like Tech Will Save Us, in the shape of videos, sharing scripts, code, projects and even hacks!
Another of the recent exciting tech launches was Cubetto from Primo Toys, who we previously wrote about here. This beautifully designed screenless coding toy smashed records in April this year becoming the most funded edtech product in history, securing more that $1.6m from over 6,000 backers in 90 countries around the world. They also picked up a Gold at the Cannes Lions for product design.
The beauty of Cubetto is in taking a seemingly complex subject and making it engaging and fun for young kids to learn through physical play. Laying out commands, scenarios, loops and functions using coloured blocks, solving logical problems and seeing them succeed or fail as they play without even knowing they are coding.
Google are also about to throw their hat into the edtech ring with Project Bloks currently in development. It’s a system of toy blocks that children can connect together to control other toys to learn the fundamentals and logic behind coding.
By simply grouping together a series of blocks with arrows on, each pointing 90 degrees away from the previous, these blocks could be used to direct a robot to draw a square or create a temperature sensor. Understanding the ‘physical coding’ as they play and over time the potential to transfer that knowledge to real-world applications.
Google’s plan is to build Bloks as a platform facilitating the technology and coding that could be programmed and transferred to third party manufactured toys, such as robots. It is this area that is identified as a growing market.
This early stage understanding of coding is enabling a new generation and arming them with skills that are rapidly becoming essential. But it is not always inclusive and not easy for all.
Reshma Saujani formally a finance worker and a hopeful (yet unsuccessful) US House of Representatives contender, founded Girls Who Code, a non profit organisation that initiates young women into the technology world. Girls Who Code has the ambition to get one million women in computer science by 2020.
Reshma’s Ted Talk last year touched upon the story behind Girls Who Code, bravery verses failure and the historic, and as it seems, modern attitudes to the way young boys and girls are being brought up and educated.
“We’re raising our girls to be perfect and we’re raising our boys to be brave.
Little boys are taught to climb high and swing hard, while little girls are taught to sit pretty, to get all A’s. We’re teaching our girls to play it safe.”
Reshma goes on to explain the modern landscape of Silicon Valley and how risk taking and failed start ups are the medals worn as credentials by the successful men within the industry.
By its very nature as Reshma puts it:
“Coding is really a process of trial and error, where success is achieved through perseverance and imperfection”
In had been noted in feedback from her teachers and mentors that students would often present a blank screen to the teachers rather than the lines of failed code, a trait virtually exclusive to girls, and as Reshma goes on to describe is a case of “perfection or bust.”
Girls Who Code is an example of trying to re-balance an industry, that in the 21st century should be a beacon of the modern gender equality.
All of this fills me with confidence and a little dread as my daughter starts school in September. It has already been made clear that coding will be part of her education, so I am going to do the only thing I can do heading into the summer… Make a couple of investments for her future, obviously! Sure they might be a little advanced, but it is important research while we wait for the Cubetto to become widely available.
I’m thinking a Sphero SPRK, the connected play learning bot:
Computing or ‘edtech’ never looked so fun!