Kate's Blog
News and views about Roamer and educational robotics

Through hell and high water...

It has been difficult watching the news for the past couple of days following the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower.  It is impossible to get through a full bulletin without crying.  So many tales of heartbreak, sorrow, compassion and breathtaking bravery. The story that struck me today was the one about Ines Alves… Continue reading

I Robot

For the last ten days I have been horizontal with damaged ligaments in my back.  This damage was sustained through painting my window sills.  Painting the window sills for God’s sake!  Addmittedly I was leaning from the inside out but even so…  It took me seven days to get enough mobility to visit my very brutal acupuncturist. So, yes, I’ve been in pain.  Enough pain to make me wish I was a robot. They don’t suffer pain, if something breaks they just replace the part.  Ideal.  I know that advances in medical technology and AI mean that these musings of mine could soon be a reality, but that won’t happen this week.

So this blog contains no insightful thoughts, no ponderings on educational philosophy or methodology just the statement that, at this present time, I would like to be a robot.  Preferably Roamer because then I would have the added bonus of bringing joy and happiness to thousands of children too!

"Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink" - a thing of the past?

I am really excited by graphene.  There I’ve admitted it.  I first cam across it a few years ago when E was doing DT GCSE and used it in one of her designs (she obviously didn’t make it – just designed it).  If you don’t know, Graphene is a material that is 1 carbon atom thick.  It is flexible, as strong as steel as conductive as silicon and has the potential to transform the world.  It was discovered/developed at Manchester University and now teams around the world are developing its potential.  Last week it was announced that another UK university team had developed a graphene filter that could change sea water into potable water.  This is mind blowing.  We can get deserts to bloom, eradicate poverty from drought and crop failure. And it will solve the ticking time bomb of future water shortages. This could change the future.

Last summer we had the privilege of meeting Aaron Cable (Vince’s grandson) who at the tender age of 14 decided that he needed to do something to reduce the problems of water shortages (he’d already been working on getting shops to give their out of date produce to the homeless from the age of 9).  So he started Water Explorers, a worldwide initiative that got schoolchildren to think about water and the problems much of the world has in getting enough (either through inadequate or polluted water supply).  We worked with him to develop a Roamer project where Roamer was a salmon going up a river to spawn but didn’t make it because of the pollution.  The students had to solve the problems at each pollution point to allow the salmon to survive and spawn. It really made students think about the problems of pollution and look for solutions.

So if graphene really can make drinking water from sea water and our children can crack pollution then the future really does look brighter for the world. In terms of water supply anyway.

Subliminal Sexism

There is a twitter feed doing the rounds at the moment that is fascinating.  The male writer tells us that he and his wife deal with clients developing resumes  His wife is noticeably slower at getting to agreement with clients and his boss has urged him to keep on top of her for her timekeeping (husband is wife’s boss).  The husband, one day, was dealing with a client who was being particularly awkward.  He disagreed with husband’s assessment, told him he (client) was using industry standards when he wasn’t and questioned everything husband was saying.  Husband then noticed he had been using his wife’s signature at the bottom of the emails in error.  He immediately wrote saying he was taking over the account. The client’s attitude changed immediately and husband could now successfully get client to implement all the strategies he had previously suggested “as his wife” without a murmur of disagreement.  Husband asked wife if this happened all the time. “Not all the time” she responded,  but certainly some of it. They agreed to swap email signatures for a couple of weeks as an experiment.  Husband was staggered to find the amount of hurdles his wife had to jump to get clients to the same position he got them to in a couple of emails.  He was even more outraged to find that she just considered it part and parcel of the job. Continue reading

Robot Teachers

Since Dave is probably the most experienced designer of educational robots on the planet , outside of MIT (he designed the first commercial robot to go into schools (the Turtle) and is still doing it today) he is often asked to review Research Papers on educational robots.

Yesterday he sent me one to look at to see what my reaction was.  A Japanese team had developed a robot teacher – larger than life size and very robot looking rather than humanoid.  It operated it two modes a) with an operator controlling it and telling it how to react and what to say and b) pre-programmed to mimic human movements like looking at the board when explaining something on it and to explain, ask questions and respond to answers.

So what did I think? Well, as far as I’m concerned for operation a), a teacher might as well cover themselves in aluminium foil and take the lesson – cheaper and more effective. The robot in this mode is pointless and just gimmicky. The kids would quickly tire of the novelty and then it would lose any impact it may initially have had. Continue reading

The rise of the robots


Everywhere I look at the moment people are predicting a robotic future.  Not only will robots be serving our every need at home but they will be taking over all our jobs too.  And apparently where this once may have been fantasy it is now more a reality.  Just consider the jobs that driverless cars will take: from driving instructors to delivery drivers. Hospitals can run on much reduced staff; don’t bother with self service tills, a robot will do it for you…

Some people have used this to predict all sorts of futures for us from a sort of robotic Armageddon where they take over completely and we are no longer needed,  to a sun filled leisure paradise for humans where the robots do all the work and earn all the money to provide each of us with an income and unending leisure time. Continue reading

Future proofing your classroom

I love technology. When I look at the improvements it has made to my life it is just incredible, from reconnecting with old friends to making it easier to find a plumber. I’ll just compare one task –going to the cinema: as a young teenager I would have to get out the Yellow Pages and find the numbers of the local cinemas and then phone each one individually to find out what was showing.  I could only phone when the phone-line was manned – later in the day.  Recorded messages stating films and showing times were a great innovation.  Now of course not only is all the information online, but I can be alerted if a film I particularly want to see is on and no more queuing to buy tickets; I book online.  Technology just makes life easier.  When my generation wanted to travel, Continue reading

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had it right

I’m not going to make any bones about it, I was, and still am, a very ardent  “Remain” voter re Brexit.  I am also strongly opposed to Trump.  Apparently this makes me one of the liberal elite.  Now, as far as I’m concerned liberal means that you care about others, not just yourself; you are a vocal proponent of equality of opportunity and vehemently opposed to any sort of racism, sexism etc. and you are tolerant.  Elite in this context means educated.  It used to be that these were attributes to be admired, now they are flung at you in an accusatory way as if thinking about things for more than a nano-second and looking at things deeper than a soundbite are failings in your character. Continue reading

Fake News

I have been wondering how we teach our children the importance of facts, logic and scientific proof in this era of post-truth politics. A time when people can appear on television and tell lies and deny facts with apparent absolute conviction – and get away with it.

I remember an incident many years ago when a Jamaican work colleague told me that if a man and a woman went for the same job the man should always get it even if the woman was better qualified.  I tried all my powers of reason and logic to persuade him otherwise, to no avail.  In the end I said, “Actually, you have a point, Vince, because I think that if a black man and white man went for the same job the white man should always get it.”  He was (quite rightly) appalled and correctly accused me of prejudice but was still blind to the prejudices he was displaying.  At that point I realized that some attitudes and outlooks are so deeply ingrained that no amount of logic is going to shift them.  You can’t fight emotion with logic.  Yet all our teaching is based on logic and facts (not alternative facts)  So are we sending our children powerless into the future armed only with scientific thought and common sense – attributes that I used to think would combat all? Continue reading

Around the world...

How Does Your Curriculum Measure Up?

Did you see the programme about Korean education? It was fascinating.  The students are either in school or an after-school tutorial from 6am – midnight.  Every week day!  I remember taking a Korean visitor into a Primary classroom.  The students were all completely engrossed in their work, so much so that they didn’t even notice us walk in.  But the thing that really got him was…

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