Keeping the baby in the bath

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I have been spurred into action based upon a few coinciding events and conversations.

I had a discussion recently with an early years specialist for whom I have enormous respect. The discussion arose from her asserting that she advised early educators to avoid the introduction of technologies such as computers, ipods, ipads and the like until children were the age of two.

She was keen to point out the importance of ‘real-world’ play, exploration and learning. She described the urgent need for youngsters to learn through handling artefacts and objects, getting their hands dirty and getting outside. She was almost apologetic when she started putting her case to me (I’ve come across this before). I think that sometimes people think that because I am an advocate for technology that somehow any argument put forward for other routes to learning will be met with my disapproval or condemnation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe in youngsters having as rich an experience of the world as it is possible to provide. This experience must reflect the way the world is. It must include opportunities to explore the full gamut.

Regarding this, there is a problem, well two problems really. Firstly, there is a problem of imbalance and secondly a problem with a failure to ask two important questions ‘So what?’ and ‘Where’s the learning?’

Let’s look first at balance. If a child’s only creative experiences were in the use of paint, they would be missing out on some pretty essential and significant other experiences such as clay, play-dough, coloured pens, pencils, crayons etc. This imbalance would be wrong and would need addressing. Would we ‘blame’ paint for this? Would we suggest that the appropriate age for the introduction of paint should be 2 years old? If there is an overuse of technology in a child’s early experience that is to the detriment of the child’s whole development, does it follow that the technology is bad or that its introduction should be delayed? I would argue not and that to delay its introduction would be equally damaging (in terms of imbalance). There may be some research or scientific evidence to suggest that infants and babies being exposed to technologies such as computers and ipads is detrimental to their eyesight and/or health  – I would be very interested to see examples of such research if anyone can point me towards it. (UPDATE: Since publishing, I have been directed to this article – My response is that most of the arguments used against screens could apply equally to books and would we really argue that infants should be deprived of books until the age of 2? ).

Interestingly, the following video clip was cited as exemplifying the problem of introducing technology too early.

To me, it exemplifies the importance of providing a rich balance of experiences. I would extend this to the over exposure to plastic, wood, primary colours and so on. I’ll say it again – Rich. Balance.

I would also add that it also highlights the importance of cooperative/collaborative engagement with technology (whether that technology is a book, magazine or an ipad). By this I refer to the power of an adult sitting down with a youngster and engaging with them and the technology together. Technology should never be a baby-sitter. See here:

This leads me to the second problem and this is linked to the seduction by ‘machines that go ping’ (more on this here on Pete Yeoman’s blog and here on Mark Gleeson’s ). For too many, technology in various forms is seen as a magic bullet. Let’s sit the baby or toddler in front of the TV, computer, ipad (whatever) cos they’ll inevitable learn loads by osmosis. Let’s buy a shedload of shiny stuff cos it’ll impress people and just look at how engaged the kids are! Let’s get some games consoles in class cos it’ll make learning fun. Please people, constantly ask yourselves these two questions: “Where’s the learning?” and “So what?” winpalace casino instant play

The problem does not lie with the technology. It is in its use. It is not the tool… (heard that somewhere before?).


AM. The Future?

I was recently invited to attend the ‘Additive Manufacturing Sandpit event’ at Loughborough University that took place on Wednesday 6th July. “What on earth is ‘Additive Manufacturing (AM)’?” I hear you cry and I have to admit I was initially a little unsure of what to expect. AM is also known as ‘3D printing’ and is a way to make stuff by adding very thin layers of polymers, metals or ceramics. This is generally done in liquid, powder or sheet form. So you can ‘print’ things. Things that have previously been designed on a computer (using CAD software). Here’s one: virtual roulette wheel download

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And here’s a video clip of a printer in action:

I was so ignorant of this technology that I wanted to know at least a little more prior to the event. An enquiry on Twitter and a bit of googling led me to Dave White, a teacher doing some amazing things and blogging about it here. I also came across this amazing use of a printer. And why not ‘print’ your own chocolates?

The day started with three presentations.
We heard from Denise Stephens (of Enabled by Design) describing the challenges that she and fellow MS sufferers encounter. The lack of any design innovation in assistive technology in the last 40 years was driven home to me as Denise shared some truly disheartening images of AT such as crutches, stools, ‘walkers’ etc. They all looked like something out of a 1950s hospital with their sterile, beige features. Why can’t designers consider everyone’s needs? Needs that could be met with relative simplicity, as they are with the Breville Hotcup dispensing kettle for instance (removing the risk of a boiling water spillage).

We heard from Andrew Haslett, Director of Strategy Development at The Energy Technology Institute. Frankly, I was left depressed. In brief, there is a major energy crisis emerging and new and urgent approaches are required (no real surprise, I suppose). Oh, and what’s more, our feeble efforts at a domestic/local level are but drops in an immense ocean. Ok, this is perhaps somewhat gloomier than Andrew’s intended message, but rosy it ain’t.

Finally, we were treated to a presentation by Mike Sharples, an education guru from The University of Nottingham. Mike’s message was refreshing and optimistic in tone. Amongst other things, he lamented the demise of bricolage or ‘tinkering’ in learning. This really resonated with me as someone that is a passionate believer in the power of this approach to learning and it reminded me of my favourite TED talk by founder of ‘The Tinkering School’, Gever Tulley. I could see immediately how AM technology might be one possible route to the resurrection of tinkering. Mike also cited John Dewey, an advocate of constructivist, hands-on experiential learning.

The rest of the day was then spent ‘sand-pitting’. In groups of varying sizes and demographics, we discussed AM with a view to proposing a project that may be chosen to receive £5000 backing. The project/proposal could have a social, energy, assistive technology or education focus.

My group developed a proposal that would involve installing a printer in a primary school, a ‘Dragons’ Den’ activity and a Design Technology project to produce relevant, valuable, useful artefacts. The school in question would become a ‘hub’ for good practice in this technology. We weren’t sure whether there is a primary school in the UK with such a technology, but we were all convinced of the value it could bring. top 10 casino canada

So what might a school get out of this? Well, it would certainly reinvigorate a Design Technology curriculum. The sheer rapidity of the process of design/manufacture to artifact is exciting and easily allows for multiple iterations. This is where tweaking and tinkering can be exploited. Imagine the possibilities for DT projects: cups/containers, mobile phone cases, stands for MP3 players, jewelry, ornaments, action figures etc.  Children will certainly come up with endless suggestions for projects. Dejan Mitrovic has a portable printer that he has taken into a school where the children each designed there own building in Google Sketchup before they printed the class ‘town’. us casinos 18

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Prices for this technology are tumbling and it is becoming ever more accessible. Once upon a time, the first computers appeared in UK schools and opened up a world of programming to a generation of youngsters. The UK is now a world leader in the computer games industry. Coincidence? wsj virtual casino

Who knows, the Christmas Present of the near future might be a personal 3-D printer. Print your own Lego pieces, Christmas tree decorations, earrings, jewelry, parts for the broken washing machine. Or, if you don’t have one at home, send your designs off to the local community printer and have them produced for you there. real money virtual games

My eyes have certainly been opened!