by Savva Osipov
About two weeks ago, I had the chance to be part of one of the educational technology panels at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Kids’ tech and learning is such a big market in the US, and CES recognizes that by having a separate conference dedicated to smart toys — “The Changing Business of Play and Learning”.
The panel, “STEM — a 4 letter word?”, included Kiki Prottsman (Code.org), Shawn Sheng (Pai Technology), Kimberly Mosley (American Specialty Toy Retailing Association), and Brett Walker (CircuitScribe). Here are some of the main takeaways I took from the conference.
Parents should not be afraid of the “screen time” issue
Technology is becoming a very important part of our life no matter what, and it’s simply a basic reality for our future generations. Kids are already set to be engaged in working with technology throughout their adult lives, so avoiding technology at this stage is not a very good option. It could even hinder academic performance when technology is used in the classroom. A better option for parents could be giving kids better educational and beneficial technological solutions and having better control over their screen time.
“Obviously, moderation is important, but I believe technology adoption is inevitable, and exposure to it for a child is also inevitable.”, — Brett Walker
Screen technology actually enhances play and physical activity
There are so many options for kids and parents out there, so many ways to engage children in technology that exceeds simply staring at their iPads all day. Parents just need to do their homework and research and choose the products that are not only entertaining, but educational. For example, one of the places one can find such educational toys are at Maker’s Fair events, or hackathons, like the ones I visited with my dad (they provide kits for free).
For instance, CircuitScribe, I tested it at CES, is a product which allows you to prototype electronics easily just by doodling on a piece of paper. The kit gives you understanding of how simple sketching and doodling translates directly into the digital world. On a very basic level, all the kits I’ve seen at CES (and there were dozens of them) include an app, where you program the logic, a robot with screens, sensors and a set of stickers, stackcards, etc.
Root Robot by CircuitScribe (CES 2018)
Parents should get engaged and be hands-on together with their kids
I’m very proud of my dad for taking his time and getting me really engaged in coding and programming electronics, and for exposing me (and him) to all the DIY tech sets, such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc. By the way, we are taking part in a contest now where we had to create a new DIY solution using a cellular dongle, Hologram Nova. If you would like, please consider taking some time to vote for me.
So, what were some of the technologies that were shown at the show? CircuitScribe, the Root robot, which I mentioned above, was one.
There was also Albert the Robot by Code and Play, which helps kids learn Java, Swift and Python.
Albert The Spaceman (CES 2018)
As you can see, most of the kits are very colorful and engaging for kids of an early age. Instead of using text, most of the coding kits use bright visuals as marked cards (see picture below) that the robot understands by screening them and then does what the kid programmed it to do from an iPad.
Cubelets Robot at CES 2018
These cool toys mentioned above are made very straightforward for kids and it will help better understand the basics and principles of coding and robotics basics. However, what happens is that you mechanically learn to repeat simple tasks. Creativity and the ability to naturally create technology lies beyond this level.
After you’ve mastered the beginner set kits you need to graduate to sets that are easily changed, just like Open Source products. For example, Arduino and Raspberry Pi kits don’t have any specific instructions and limitations, you can make almost anything with them with enough creativity and skill. Once you’ve moved on to these full kits, you can continue to improve your understand by taking part in hackathons and contests. Hackster.io is one of the best ways to find where and when these types of contests are being held.
Savva Osipov, is a middle school student from California who participates in hardware and IoT hackathons; develops and assembles gadgets; and has a Facebook page and a tech channel on YouTube. Savva also developed a gaming gadget, WOWCube, together with his dad.