(The article was original published at Moon Light Magazine for Sep – Oct 2018 edition. The magazine can be accessed – https://joom.ag/kkia. This is reproduced with permission of the Managing Editor Ms. Priyamoni Debnath)
Mankind can only progress if the mind is to be progressive. To be progressive thinkers one needs to innovate and take risks, how could we help child to be so? Unlike couple of decades ago upbringing was focused on making a good human being where personality fetched more brownie points over today’s expectation among children who (often) forced to chase never-ending quest for achievements. Earlier children had limited space to innovate because of hand-to-mouth economics. Children often are forced to work on standardized tests. These measurements likely to create a situation of difficulty to be innovators in future. These standardized tests are often evaluated like binary 0 or 1 where getting answers become focus.
According to author Wagner’s1 book, Creating Innovators says, ‘An average a child asks 100 questions a day. But around 10 or 12 age, child understands the importance of right answers than asking questions.’
How do we help child to balance both? Is it a right question to ponder? Or Is creative has to do with asking questions? In a classroom or on coffee table talks one often consumes information either through force (uniformity because of curriculum) or belief system. Parents and teachers could bring sense of play where child could play multiple role as thinkers, innovators and problem solvers. Parents and teachers could help to connect to the basics that child has come across in a course work. It might seem fun for a child.
One of such introduction to schools and home is STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). This inter-disciplinary approach will help in fueling the curious mind to focus on understanding how to bring the multiple things together. This will foster several skills either working individuals or in a group. Skills that are in demand such as creativity, communication and collaboration. STEM is applicable to languages, history or anything else. This is to help individual to educate and personalize learning. It can be referred as STEAM, where ‘A’ refers to Arts.
Dale Dougherty2 summed up very neatly in his TED talk at TED@Motorcity 2011, we are makers. He believes that each individual contributes through making something. They not necessarily have real significant to everyone but it could be for oneself. Author Drew Boyd also believes that children can learn systematic creativity at early age. He uses five techniques of Systematic Inventive Thinking. He pinpoints that by creating a model (prototype) that is already been invented, this is success. Because by repeating a successful model, one could invent new and useful. His teaching to children also emphasis on two direction of innovation: solution-to-problem and problem-to-solution.
Children’s innovation projects could lead to fearlessness to try new and take risk. Understanding dimensions to innovation can create a great sense of purpose in young minds. This sense of belonging is like play with crayons or clays. Parents and teachers can make a big deal in raising kids if engagements are through story telling or play. Such group activities will make children believe that each one are working toward the same goal. This will open doors to abstract thinking like intuitive sense. Children likes working together, as it unites people in purposeful and meaningful ways.
One of such exceptional is Shubam Banerjee3, while he was 12 year created braigo, braille printer for less price. The likely scenario incase children are not given innovation ecosystem is like, ‘remolding for regular production.’
With technology like mobile and computers being necessity, clubbing several components like building blocks, electronics and programming is leading to several innovative prototyping in the field of STEM. Robotics is not just about STEM. It’s an ecosystem that children are required to equip with life skills like leadership, communication, entrepreneurship and exchanging ideas with people around the world, (for example, YouTube).
Does it mean, can innovation be taught in a classroom or home? According Dr. Prashanth P. Gowda, Consultant Pediatrician and Neonatologist says, ‘Innovation can’t be taught but one can train mind and lay foundation to be innovative. It needs a free mind, free of fear, free of stress, free to think, the way a child want. At times, there is a need of push to get that focus about what the child would do.’
As much knowledge was looked up handful years ago but now what one does and how is it done counts to collaborate. Now children demand an ecosystem of empowerment as creators with teachers and parents.
Innovative projects such as agro-robo prototyped by few batch of students using QtPi Robotics kit have evolved and is an answer to the approach: problem-to-solution and solution-to-problem. An agro-robo which has a moisture sensor to check the moisture value in the soil. Based on the characteristics of soil and quantity of water for individual crop growth, it can be optimized. This could be a boon to agrarian economy. Additional the same robot could be used for tiling, sowing, watering and sprinkling fertilizers.
Changing paradigm in the way food is and will be grown or delivery of goods, the way we connect to others, spend money etc., STEM is evolving and transforming individuals lives. A trend that is going to be ‘Robotics for All’ to drive the future.
Understanding the intrinsic motivation of child one is allowing it to be more innovative. The key factor lies in innovation. Showing and allowing the child to develop ways to solve existing problems makes STEAM exciting. As we understand that children can quiz the problem, note the observations, discuss with mentors or use the other resources to forecast the prediction that seem solvable. Such process adds skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These indicates value added to oneself and it’s a new level. It is often difficult to predict the future industries but indicator of automation is for several nations. Schools and individuals of developing nations need to embrace and integrate STEM into their curriculum. The integration being a key word is to engage child with science in new ways. Let’s not forget on wisdom words by Rabindranath Tagore, “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he is born in another time.”
- Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner, Scribner, 2012
- Dale Dougherty, We are makers, TED talk at TED@Motorcity, 2011
- Photograph with permission QtPi Robotics
A plain playground seems attractive over hundreds of man-hours beautifully chiseled and crafted classroom for a child. Imagine if classrooms were like playground, the learning would be at its highest. This might not be attractive to educators and parents because of constant pressure of academic readiness. This ‘attractiveness’ isn’t supported by volumes of research, play is vital for scientific inquiry and conceptual thinking. Play is fun and voluntary. It is likely to have repetition and variation like a function of remote control car robot which could do four functions like forward, backward, right and left. However, the play might seem random and little variation on the usage of speed or switching the direction. In the play child is likely to use causal reasoning the moment car dashes or hits a dead end (like wall). The cause and effect relationships could evoke children at the early age if introduced to play.
Stuart Brown in his TED talk ‘Play is more than just fun’, highlights that play exists because of curiosity and exploration. He presents examples on different kinds of play that exists like ‘rough and tumble play’, ‘spectator play’, ‘Imaginative play’ etc to say that human beings are involved in some form of play.
Each kind of play helps the child to build, tinker, use imagination, and safe exploration & experimentation. All these will help in learning STEM. Pretend play, one could correlate to evolution to programming languages. The logical reasoning answers ‘if’, ‘else’ questions. The codes or logical writing resembles to the fictional scenarios about possible outcomes.
In an observatory class, children were excited on receiving building box to build a Remote-Control Car. The curiosity of building was short-lived once the structure came up. Introduction to electronic components and programming to control the project accelerated the excitement. The plug-play-integrate-innovate concept might seem to go well in children play. In the end of building a group project children had to make a presentation using one of the play form such as pretended play, explanatory play and guided play. Each form of play is expected to help in their attention to information. Each play helped in newer ideas to prototype.
Often educators find difficult to teach because they use direct instruction and free play is combined, often a guided play might be more effective tool. To justify, during the introductory classes of Robotics children of age 5.5 and above were introduced to building box components. Guided play, with more emphasis on free play and less on instruction play. During such play, children named them recognizing the shape like hole-pillar because it consists of hole and looks like a pillar. It is due to conceptual learning. While some children observed number of holes in the pillar, named it as 5-hole pillar. It is due to conceptual learning and spatial languages. The latter case is combined form of guided play.
If the explanations were found inconsistent or project fails, show an example and ask children to develop a new idea or test hypothesis. This testing will introduce to newer skills required for STEM. In another observatory class a group had designed a Vertical Remote-Control Car. The arguments from the group on the design could raise eyebrows of policy makers and future car manufacturers. They want to devise a car that will have people seated in vertical position (a feeling during take-off of flight) except the driver. This car one way acts as a two-wheeler to overcome in the parking issues and congestion. The design seemed a bit off because the car lacked the sturdy base to hold from buckling and placing of mother board (heart of robot). Such ideas need open-ended WH questions such as when, how, why etc., that helps to trigger to the explanatory and exploratory. Mentors introduction to technical words (plus in non-technical format) will help connect to a child’s prior learning. For example, sensors could be related to sense of human beings, for example eyes.
These could be good enough reasons to accept play could help in learning STEM. The sense of belonging and satisfaction through the play could some great memories for future.
- Alison Gopnik, Aug 12, 2016, The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/08/in-defense-of-play/495545/
- Stuart Brown in his TED talk ‘Play is more than just fun’ 2008
- Observations classes by QtPi Robotics team