Sept - Dec 2016
Global Digital Innovation
Edu Tech 


Children Need to Know How Things Work Without Expensive Robotics Kits

​Educators are beginning to recognize the importance of bringing engineering and technology into the classroom by introducing circuitry, programming, and robotics as a way to meet NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards are), K–12 science content standards requirements. The biggest issue for teachers is where to begin and how to afford the resources. With so many robotics kits on the market and software and microprocessors, how do teachers choose and where do they find the knowledge to learn and teach engineering? One alternative is to teach engineering with soft circuits, squishy circuits and my favorite, paper circuitry. What I like so much about paper circuits is they are so easy to learn, fast to make, and inexpensive for most teachers. More importantly kids love making an LED light up, which creates that high interest and high engagement that may inspire them to think of a career that relies on STEM knowledge.

The impact of teaching engineering with alternative ways for children to learn circuitry and programming is significant, though only now beginning to be widely researched in K12 Education. I am going to be bold and say paper circuitry is the very foundation of how to start an engineering program for an after-school, in school, or library MakerSpace because of the benefits. Engineering has not always been accessible because of the expense and the perception it is too difficult to learn, which creates an equity barrier. Paper circuits level the playing field and lowers the equity barrier.

Something else I want to speak on is I would like to suggest that it is not enough to give children a robotic kit and teach them simple coding exercises from online websites and voila! they want to be future computer scientists or engineers. I am afraid this what we are seeing happen in our schools, an over reliance on kits. Robotics kits and free coding websites do serve a purpose, that is to expose children to critical thinking about the logic or logical steps to program a robot to move. I feel very strongly the next step after learning logic is for children to learn how things work. From this experiential learning once children master these basic engineering skills, they can be tasked with developing technology to solve real world problems such as designing and programming a plant water monitoring system, or creating a solution to providing clean energy. These are all engineered projects. Engineering is all around us. Everything man has made has been engineered, which is fascinating when children realize this.

Robots are a really fun way to get started but that is not the only thing engineers do. They invent things and solve problems. Engineers cannot go and buy a kit when they have an engineering problem to solve. They have to design and construct all the parts from scratch and this means they have to know what the parts do, how to solder, how to make calculations, and how to program. Engineering kits are made of the same separate parts engineers use but they take a lot of the thinking away from students. We limit childrens’ knowledge to kits when we do this.

If we are going to help our children perhaps choose a future STEM career after experiencing the fun of learning engineering then we have to take the next step and help them understand how kits work. Yes, we can hook them with a cute kit, and there is nothing wrong with that but there needs to be the next step in complexity. I have to say I love LEGO’s, Little Bits, Hummingbird Kits, Squishy Circuits, Makey Makey, and Arduino, but most teachers cannot afford even one of them.

That next step is understanding how to program using simple microprocessors like the ATtiny85. Then children can learn how to make their own simple robots from using parts from an engineering kit they made from scratch. It is not that hard to do and it is inexpensive. Many many teachers and students have learned to do this themselves and it is liberating. This is knowledge they can build complexity upon. The best, affordable, and fastest way to learn engineering in my opinion is through paper circuits because they are immediately accessible and filled with immeasurable opportunities for creativity and artistic self-expression.

Jeannine Huffman- 13 November, 2016
Jeannine Huffman, is Adjunct Faculty, Teachers College of San Joaquin

t @HuffmanJeannine

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Creator Spaces   Designing Innovation Economics


Ayesha Dawood

I liked this when I came across it “Thinking is a kind of making, and making is a kind of thinking" says Jessie Shefrin former Provost of The Rhode Island School of Design and past Dean of Graduate Studies of The Rhode Island School of Design.

I like this too, alot 'design thinking ... is the expression of communication – the form itself...' that is the response I got when I asked John Maeda, at a talk at MIT this year what design thinking is -- Is it the form, is it the way it is presented .. and how does it impact international affairs? His response has got me mulling on innovation economics – and a very 21st century focus. The innovation economics idea was introduced to me by Professor William Fisher of Harvard Law School, Wilmer Hale Professor of Intellectual Property. And so Professor Fisher I take the liberty to propel this idea to designing innovation economics in the 21st century. So here I am positing Creator Spaces as innovation economics in action. And yes, Prof Fisher, Intellectual Property is important and as you say, only and only if it creatively engages with culture. So I take the creative engaging with the culture of a people, the culture of counties ... to a culture of creation. So, I am building and creating and designing too. Is this Ronald Dworkin`s chain novel theory playing itself out – a step by step building of things.

In particular I focus on Creator and Maker spaces which I call Creator Spaces. It is a movement rapidly gaining traction – and pioneering new pedagogies – tinkering, creator and playful learning pedagogies. No doubt this is influencing and will continue to improve a whole new wave – tinkering, playful learning and learning through play and exploration heralding novel creations as well as iterations in the new edu- tech era.

This is innovation economics birthed. A world of tinkering, software and hardware creation including an immersive engagement with technology and with materials –that is what empowers us to be courageous and creative. To make, to create – the art of playful learning and innovator spirit is boldly borne.

In seeing what we create – both online with immersive engaging of technology to building with our minds and hands to creating with materials to embracing the realm of possibilities and yes frameworks ( the lawyer in me screams legal frameworks as much computational thinking calls for system frameworks ). That is the power of Creator Space. They energise, motivate, uplift and propel growth in ones own sense of self, in creativity, in making, in building, in designing and cognition and critical thinking. And this is why it makes sense – it is innovation economics in both the digital and physical – a new form of a connected world – a world of immersive technology made simple – a world of creative making and a world of design and designing new things – software, new hardware, new things and while the search for new hardware forms and hardware materials is increasingly opening up new possibilities in materials.... Creator Spaces are about working with what is available as well making new from afresh and in that process new forms are birthed – New software creation is Creator Space and open source learning and remixing also lend impetus to this. See what amazing creations Scratch, an open source computer programme inspiring community learning and inspiring kids to create stories, animations and games - initiated at the MIT Media Lab Lifelong Kindergarden Group - is doing for kids globally here

Designing Creator Spaces is about inspiring people to take charge of their minds and ideas. I marvelled at watching the excitement and agility of the kids at MIT `s Scratch Day this May. Boundless enthusiasm and fun creations – and such confidence.

A new creator pedagogy in the making – yes – but maybe not so new in Africa and emerging economies where creator crafts and tinkering necessities were birthed. It is this staple that will take the shift to tinkering and artful play in emerging economies to levels unparalleled and a boon for innovation economics. Now that is design thinking innovation economics.  Creator Spaces is innovation economics. And yes, Intellectual Property matters.

Ayesha Dawood is a lawyer, writer and artist and educator. She is a Harvard and South African educated lawyer (@ConsultAyesha) She has an LL.M from Harvard Law School and is a recent Fellow of the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University.