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

Costa Rica: Shangri La?

Costa Rica is amazing.  Not only is this small country a beacon of stability in an otherwise unstable region, not only is it ecologically and geographically diverse, not only does it have an amazing range of primates and other creatures it also has an incredible education system.

Based on the Constructivist principles of Papert, and indeed praised and supported by him, it hasn’t been prey to the vagaries of different political opinion taking it one way and then the other.  About twenty years ago they decided the sort of education that they wanted for their young and they have stuck to that path.  They have put resources hand in hand with training and taken it slowly.  Instead of jumping on the “Computing” bandwagon they looked at the longer term goals and decided that developing the thinking skills (computational thinking) was a much better objective than “coding skills”.  Obviously the students learn to code but this is secondary to the thinking skills that they are developing.  To my mind it is a really enlightened view of education and as a teacher it thrills my heart.  As you will see from my previous post I’m all about thinking skills.  I know I’m not the only teacher to see this as central to my educational philosophy, but it does bear repeating. They don’t talk about educating to satisfy the jobs market they recognise that the better educated their citizens , the wealthier (in all ways) the nation will be.

We were lucky enough to meet one of the prime movers of their education system at the Constructionist Conference in Vilnius and it was great to see the synergies between their aims and Roamer’s philosophy and design.  But if you are a teacher and fed up being pulled between pillar and post by different governments get yourself to Costa Rica.  It sounds like the perfect place to be.  Now just let me check air fares…

Teach a child to think...

I have been invited to give a keynote lecture on the Induction day of the new Educational Computing students at UCL.  It can be on a subject of my choosing.  Unfortunately I am away on the date in question, but it did get me thinking about what I would say.  How do I share my years of classroom experience with new teachers?  What can I do to shortcut the miserable first year that they are likely to have and ensure that their passion for teaching doesn’t die but continues to flare? What golden nugget of wisdom could I pass on to them? I decided that I could adapt an old saying – you know the one about give a man a fish and feed him for a day, give a man a fishing rod and feed him for life.  My adage is “Teach a child to code and you get them through a test, teach a child to think and you get them through life.” Continue reading

A History Lesson

Many, many, many years ago I started my teaching career in a new school.  After the first one was burnt down our new build contained a Computer Science department.  At first Joan, who taught secretarial skills, was asked to lead it but she demurred – she might be good at the keyboard but that was as far as her understanding went.  Eventually the Head forked out for a Computer Science teacher.  My classroom happened to be next door and whilst I didn’t want to write code I did think that these new fangled machines could be quite a useful addition to my teaching.  I got hold of a piece of software that analysed diet from ILEA (remember them?!) and borrowed the lab. Well there was uproar.  Irate parents complaining that I had told their son/daughter that they weren’t eating properly  “and you just have to look at her hair and teeth to see that she is” ( as I gazed at a rather tubby girl with dank hair).  I had quite a bit of difficulty explaining that I had nothing to do with it, the computer was merely responding to what the students themselves had put into it. The parents of course had never come across a computer and had minimal understanding of their capability – as we all did.
Continue reading

Upskirting: the downside of modern technology

When I was 8 I got really fed up with the boys looking up our skirts to see our knickers.  Rather than tell the teacher I led a female rebellion and we started to look up their shorts.  They told the teacher.  As ringleader I got my first ever detention, even after I explained why we were doing it.  I was outraged at the injustice of it – and can still feel that outrage today.  Continue reading

International Day of the Girl meets Code Week

Like many people I can’t stand modern celebrity culture.  The worship of people with no discernible skills beyond being famous – or the odd sex movie. Kim Kardashian leaves me cold and I have no knowledge of Big Brother contestants since Craig won series 1.

But every so often I meet someone truly inspiring. Some time ago I bumped into Ellen Macarthur in my local bank.  It was soon after she had given up her lead position in a round the world race to save a fellow sailor ( who was French which is why the French also love her). I just had to say hello and how much I admired her.  It just so happened that at the time  a friend was sailing  in a round the world race and her Skipper was a friend of Ellen’s and Ellen was following it as keenly online as I was.  So I managed to have a fifteen minute conversation with Ellen Macarthur about sailing – me , who couldn’t tell the difference between a rhumb line and a rum and coke, me,  who hates water, but boy (buoy?!) I make a great armchair sailor.

I was similarly star struck last Friday.  Continue reading

What is happiness?

Today I heard of research that showed that medical procedures have better outcomes in people who are happy.  At one level this seems ludicrous – how can the outcome of something as scientific as medicine depend on something as transitory as mood? On the other hand it seems  very obvious; it’s difficult to put into words, but somehow  it makes sense that a “positive” body will respond better than a “negative” body.

A  recent study in Singapore found that Confidence was a useful predictor of academic achievement. And we are all aware of how markets react to “confidence”.  We mustn’t talk something down because then it will go down.

So self belief, confidence and a happy persona ( not to be confused with over confidence , self absorption and arrogance) seem to be of greater benefit to the long term prospects of an individual than academic achievement .

So why do we concentrate so much on academic achievement and so little on the softer skills of happiness and positivity? When we were in Oldham last year working on the Peace Program we developed an activity that focussed on what the children had in common with each other – we created a network of commonality.  The teacher commented afterwards that the children had probably learn more about each other in that hour than they had in their previous five years because the timetable was so full that there wasn’t time to get to know how they felt about things. And yet more and more we are learning that feelings can trump logic.  We know that when children are emotionally engaged in their learning it is far more powerful and long lasting.  Here at Valiant we also know the power of Roamer for engaging those feelings and empowering and motivating children in their learning.  So although the timetable is indeed crammed full perhaps we should be exploring ways of delivering it that will also help develop a child’s confidence and positivity because to my mind they equal happiness.

We don’t want to abandon scientific thought and reason all together, when you rely on just “feelings” without thought you end up with Brexit, Trump and anarchy but I think we do need to give more emphasis on creating happy children.

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

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