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

The Learning Tower of PISA

I  have been listening to commentators respond to the latest PISA results in problem-solving.  They either take the tack of being pleased to be second in Europe to Finland (which as everyone knows has a first class education system) or to be disappointed that we are all lagging behind “Asia”. Continue reading

Roamer's Full House

Roamer, Valiant Technology, Educational Robots, Mathematical Modelling

Berne Town Hall clock that inspired Eintein’s mental model.

I was reading an article about plans to colonise Mars when I came across an explanation as to why it was necessary from former astronaut John Grunsfeld.  He said, “single-planet species don’t survive”.  This struck me as an extraordinary statement to make.  OK, there were the dinosaurs, but how does he know that there aren’t other dinosaurs happily living on planets in far flung galaxies?  It seemed such an un-scientific statement to make to explain the most scientific of explorations.  I commented as such to Dave.  He thought that it was more probably a mental modelling rather than fact based statement.  Apparently much like Einstein.  He got his “eureka moment” re the theory of relativity while sitting on a tram.  He realised that if his tram pulled away from the Berne Town Hall Clock at faster than the speed of light the time on the clock would not change.  He mentally modelled the situation.  And from that tiny spark of understanding the theory of relativity was born.  Now, we know how much the concrete experiences with Roamer help students develop their mental and mathematical modelling skills, so I reckon that’s 1 for Roamer. Continue reading


Roamer has been designed to be neutral – it shows no culture or gender bias.  We feel this is important; the moment you give it a character it becomes part of that culture. And we all now know, thanks to the HSBC adverts, that colour can have different meanings in different cultures.  The importance of this neutrality is explored on our Tumblr site.

I enjoy making up activities for different cultures that involve changing the appearance of Roamer appropriate to the activity and culture.  For me it is all part of the educational experience of he child.  However last week I was on holiday and my reading matter was a book on north Korea. I tried to think of a Roamer activity that would reflect the cultural environment of the students there.  Beyond standing still and “singing” the National Anthem, I was stymied. Continue reading

OMG! (to use the current lexicon) miracles really do happen.  I have mentioned several times Dave’s insistence that understanding Maths is more important than learning “how” to do sums. So whenever E wanted help with her homework (she just wanted a quick and easy solution)  he made her think about it and work it out.  You can imagine the battles that ensued and the joy of being in the same room as them. Continue reading

I love the 99p Store.  It’s like an Aladdin’s cave full of exciting things and all at the bargain price of 99p.  Last week I bought a couple of rugs – one to catch the mud as we take off our wellies as we come in the front door and one where the dog likes to lie after his walk when he is covered in mud.  Basically they are there as mud catchers; to be thrown in the washing machine every so often. So a 99p rug is ideal.

I also like to get my shower gel for 99p.  Since I shower daily and I’m not a boy I don’t require much more than a bit of lather and a nice smell from my shower gel.

If you don’t require too much from a product you can get it pretty cheap and I’m rather smug about my ability to spot a bargain.

But then, oh dear, I expanded into shampoo.  I got a very large container of shampoo and an equally large one of conditioner.  I was not impressed.  This time I did require more than just a nice smell (and to be honest it didn’t even do that!), but what I got was worse than the worst washing up liquid.   A mistake – but thankfully only £1.98 of mistake.

Some mistakes are rather more costly and it can be so difficult comparing products on the internet or catalogue pages.  I’ve come to realise the truth in that old adage “You get what you pay for”.  Cheaper is not necessarily more cost effective.

Last week while watching “Who wants to be a millionaire” I knew that the Singapore Flyer (and a couple of others) were not race horses or roller coasters but were large ferris wheels.  How did I know this?  I knew this because that day I had been on Facebook looking at photos of my cousin Pat on the Singapore Flyer.  If I had been asked the question a day earlier I wouldn’t have known the answer.  The fantastic film “Slumdog Millionaire” beautifully illustrates just how random our acquisition of knowledge can be.  We learn just by living.

So why do we need schools?  Because , despite what some politicians seem to think, knowledge is so much more than knowing a few facts. Teachers lead their pupils through the learning process, focussing on understanding and skill development rather than the rote learning of capital cities.

And this is where Roamer is so strong – by playing with Roamer pupils develop a concrete understanding of abstract  concepts.  Not only that, they become active in their own education, constantly setting themselves new challenges to solve.  As active participants in their own learning they tend to have a quicker and deeper understanding and to be able to develop a set of thinking skills that provides a solid foundation for higher order thinking skills.

So whilst I am proud that I could answer a question that Vic Reeves couldn’t, I also recognise that if you just learn facts there will always be ones you miss out on.  All Chris Tarrant would have to do would be to ask me a question about “Eastenders” and I would be a gonner!

The other day one of my Common friends (dog walking companions on the Common), claimed that her dog could count.  I was a little dubious. With the greatest respect to Rusty he isn’t the cleverest dog on the Common.  But then she explained: if she brings in two plates of food when she is on her own, Rusty gets excited.  If her partner is present he doesn’t bother when she brings in two plates of food but gets excited when she brings in three (yes he does share her food, yes he does eat off the same plates, yes he is spoilt rotten, no she doesn’t have any children).  So maybe claiming a counting dog may be stretching the truth a little, but he can certainly work out when there is one extra plate to number of humans present.

A little later I watched a video of two Capuchin monkeys who had to work together to release six nuts from a jar. The monkey holding the jar then fairly divided the nuts giving 3 nuts to the other monkey.  The video was showing how animals work together to solve a problem, but I was amazed at how the money could correctly divine 6 nuts by two.

So in my limited way I am starting to appreciate just how ingrained a Mathematical ability is in a range of living creatures. It is a theory that bigger brains than mine have been positing for some time (The Maths Gene, Keith Devlin), but time and again it confirms itself when I watch children “play” with Roamer.

Try this for yourself – set up a Roamer challenge with a mathematical context and sit back and watch.  You will be amazed at the amount of Maths your pupils are using, Maths that you haven’t necessarily introduced to then yet, but Maths that they intrinsically understand.  It seems to me that when we teach Maths we sort of try to force it into the children but actually what we should be doing is allowing them to bring it out of themselves.  It is already there in its basic form, by nurturing it and allowing it to grow, challenging it to help develop it we develop mathematical understandings that are already part of their being.  Force feed them formulas and methodologies then forever and a day their mathematical understanding will consist of phrases such a “two minuses is a plus” – an ability to do but no solid ground of understanding.

So I am really proud of the way Roamer can help children to bring out the Maths that is already in them, perhaps I should introduce him to Rusty.

It seems like only yesterday we were looking for a Secondary school for E, yet here we are doing the rounds again looking at 6th Forms and discussing “A” level choices.

At a recent work experience in a Design Studio E had to develop a product and present it to the client. She was discussing this with a teacher of “A”level Business Studies.  He said that to develop a successful product you had to listen to your customers.  This struck me as such a text book answer that it showed that the teacher (and I say this with the greatest of respect – remember I was one) really had no idea about product innovation or entrepreneurship.  Of course companies have to listen to their customers; indeed one educational company tries to claim this as unique to them.  It isn’t – every company worth its salt listens to their customers.  Not a day goes by when our R&D, not to mention customer service, sales and marketing are not chatting to customers, getting their feedback and ideas and putting everything into the melting pot that will help inform future products and services.  So to try to sell yourself as the company that listens to teachers is pure guff.

But more than that, it stifles innovation. All that is produced is a slightly better/cheaper version of what is already on offer.  If teachers using the blackboard had been asked how they could improve it they would probably choose a more appropriate background colour and less messy chalk: they would have come up with the whiteboard.  But how many of them would have taken the imaginative step to the interactive whiteboard?  A truly innovative product will be one that the customer never knew they wanted but the moment they have it they know they can’t live without it. As Henry Ford so eloquently put it “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse”!

When Turtle and then Roamer® were introduced they were truly innovative. They were the forerunners of the  whole range of educational robots that you find today.  They were a complete leap of imagination, but nowadays teachers recognise how much they help access difficult concepts, help pupils work things out and discover things for themselves, engage,  motivate and excite while supporting different learning styles.  The modern classroom would not be without an educational robot.

The new Roamer® (Roamer-Too) also takes an imaginative leap, providing a flexible learning tool that helps scaffold the child’s learning.  It marries the latest technology with current understandings of how students learn.

Of course we listen to teachers, we listen to the problems they encounter every day, we listen to what limitations they face, we listen to their complaints about time, resources, behaviour, money… and then we find a solution. And while we do that they continue to educate, support and inspire the next generation.  That’s called teamwork!

So we are about to enter the Year of the Dragon. This is meant to be a very lucky year. But I have to say it hasn’t done us any favours as yet. China has closed down. We failed to persuade the Chinese Government to delay Chinese New Year until Roamer-Too had been completed. So PJ our Production Manager has returned empty handed; all very frustrating. But just the latest of frustrating things that have dominated the gestation of this little creature. Continue reading

I have taught in many schools and visited many many more.  But yesterday was a first.  I was visiting St Augustine’s in Trowbridge to show Roamer-Too to a cluster of teachers. And we had a great time playing for the afternoon, chatting, developing ideas etc.  And then I went to the loo.  And here was the first.  There was a small lined basket with a selection of toiletries – deodorant sprays and lotions and potions.  I was mesmerised. And apparently the Gents loo had similar

I thought about it later and realised that they were probably not used very often.  They would be a thrill to start with but then just “there”.  So they wouldn’t need replacing very often.  So for a really limited amount of money (probably less than £20 a year), you get an enormous effect.  You are saying – this is a really civilised place to work and we care about you.  Remember it next time you are recruiting.  Oh, and if you want me to come and check out your loo I’ll be more than happy to come and do a Roamer-Too workshop for your cluster.