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

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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

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

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