Finland moving to Topic based learning

Finland has been the envy of much of the modern world in the field of education/schools and has proven that it can produce top results with only minimal testing (one standardized test when they are 16) and almost no homework, emphasizing play and creativity. A still radical concept for many countries (including Hong Kong!). Not content on its already impressive and by some measure revolutionary progress Finland is pressing on with even more fundamental reform changing the core of its system away from Subjects to emphasizing Topics with even more emphasis on play!

This is exciting on many levels; imagine a classroom setting where instead of being taught Maths it will be about “Middle Eastern relations” which might cover history, economics, maths and geography or “Animal Conservation in Africa” which would cover the same elements but also include the Sciences. Schools do this today in the form of special projects but it is not at the core of the program and rarely comprehensive focusing still in a very subject-specific manner even though real life today does not function that way (unless you are an academic!). This concept of “joyful learning” is something we could really do a lot better at in Hong Kong!

Full article available here: http://ind.pn/1HbVHsC

Scratch, a great way to teach your Kids how to code

I’ve always been a big supporter of teaching children how to code at a very early age. My Son started coding when he was 7-8 years old and I already think that’s too late. The software I used for that is called Scratch and it’s a great free tool to teach kids the fundamentals of coding. In a world that is largely run by Software which is effectively code, not knowing how to program is a little bit like being able to read but not to write.

Mitch Resnick led the group that developed Scratch over at MIT and listen to what inspired him and why he thinks your children need to learn how to code too!

Children’s learning styles in the 21st Century

This is my speech at the Dr. Louise Porter Conference held in Hong Kong earlier this year were I raise some of our thoughts and ideas behind Children’s learning styles in the 21st century as part of our Thinkblaze initiative. In general I advocate for more responsible technology use in the family, rather than less and discuss concepts of how our children are affected with todays technology, videogames and internet use. The full blog post on the topic with all the videos can also be seen at: http://bit.ly/1a0assw

Moms & Gaming

The ESA just released this very interesting study Mom Gamers Study: A New Generation of Gamer that says that 74% of Mothers today play video games and most of them do so on a mobile device of some sort (Smartphone most likely).  Mothers today are also more likely to be playing a game at least once a week (and most play every day).

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What I also found important is that the the majority of them (71%) also indicate that they closely monitor the video game content of their children and that 56% of gaming Mom’s agree that they video gaming can be a family activity.

I think this is potentially a critical shift in the relationship of Parenting and Video Games. There are still a lot of influential people who consider video games as generally bad, especially for children. I disagree with this view but I won’t go into this debate today as I and many others have argued  previously that there are benefits in playing video games for children which has become a common discussion topic these days. What I have also said is that one can never expect any sort of  medium (TV and Video Games included) to replace Parenting and this shift of Mothers as active video game players who can also effectively monitor/play video games together with their kids is important as it could finally indicate a bridging of generations rather than a widening generation gap which has been the general trend so far.

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Only if Parents actually play video games will they understand it and therefore be able to correctly assess and appreciate their children’s video game play time for all the right reasons. I remember when I was answering questions in a parenting conference (Organized by Dr. Louise Porter) not too long ago it became clear to me that it was difficult for them to assess what was suitable for their child because they were unfamiliar with Video Games in general. Imagine if you had to try to determine the appropriate reading materials for your child but you were illiterate? Perhaps an exaggerated example but it’s in the same ballpark. If you don’t play video games at all or try to play together with your child, how will you ever understand why kids (and adults) are so fascinated with it?

The trend is clear. For all the parents who are not yet playing Video Games, apparently you are now in the minority so get moving and start playing games with your Kids if you want to get to know them better!

Shedding New Idea Resistance

Dr. Peter Attia: Is the obesity crisis hiding a bigger problem is a great self-reflective and very personal speech about his experience in the Medical Profession. He talks about his previous (mis)understanding of obesity/diabetes and how previous prejudice and wrong assumptions led to incorrect treatment that was never questioned and ultimately always led to blaming the patient for not taking better care of their health. Listen to the whole speech below but I liked this quote: “As medical professionals we’d shed our excess mental baggage and cured ourselves of new idea resistance […] the courage to throw out yesterdays ideas and the understanding that scientific truth isn’t final but constantly evolving”.

Shedding excess mental baggage isn’t just limited to the Medical Profession but to every aspect of our personal and professional life. Whatever we were taught before, a lot of it is just completely wrong or completely irrelevant today be it in nutrition, science, healthcare, education, parenting or business practices etc. Many of us have experienced resistance to new ideas and are likely also guilty of the same (including myself) because personal prejudice is developed over time, like plaque on teeth because as we gain new life experiences not all of them are positive and it affects us and it is something that we need to constantly trim and clean as we constantly develop new forms of “prejudicial plaque of the mind”

Keep an open mind and have the courage to throw out yesterdays ideas and know that any “truth” (not just scientific) isn’t final but constantly evolving. Change is what gives us progress, embrace it.

Child-driven Tablet learning experiences in a remote village school in Nepal.

When we set out to donate Android Tablets to a remote village school in Nepal it was never intended to be a SOLE (Self-Organized Learning Environment) setup, in  part, because the School that we are supporting was setup in a traditional manner with teachers, classrooms etc.

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That said, even with teachers present, the power of child-driven learning was clearly evident within just minutes of us passing out the tablets. My son had dutifully prepared a little step-by-step instruction assuming (correctly) that none of these Nepalese children in a remote village up in the mountains had ever seen such a tablet before and would therefore have difficulty using them. Many of the students don’t have electricity at home, let alone own any kind of digital device.

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What actually happened was that instead of being a “child lecturer” educating novices on the use of a technologically sophisticated device, my son ended up being more of an agile facilitator, a sort of sysadmin, stepping in when something appeared broken. This arrangement worked beautifully. In under 5 minutes an entire classroom of children, whose command of English was very poor (and my son speaks no Nepalese), were exploring their Android tablet, in some cases opening up new pre-installed educational apps, in other cases racking up high scores and 3 stars in Alphabet Car. It looked like the students could continue playing, engaging and learning from the tablets without adult supervision as competently as children in the developed world who are accustomed to regular tablet use.

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What was also fascinating was that small groups formed around those who picked up the devices before others; these “early adopters” began educating those around them on the use of the devices and teaching them how to do so, in their native tongue. While it wasn’t quite like Dr. Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall the effect was startlingly similar in that children began teaching and discovering all by themselves.

I plan to write more about this later but here are just a few thoughts:

1. Giving children a tablet is the way to go, especially in underdeveloped areas. I’m not sure there is a need for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) to cover that role given the excellent and affordable alternatives out there; it just seems productive to skip the laptop and go straight for the tablet instead. A tablet is also very portable and can be used anywhere and in an environment were a steady and reliable flow of electricity is a challenge; light and portable battery operated devices are ideal.

2. I believe the devices ought to be “open” (i.e. programmable/hackable/tinkerable) and that good quality color screens are important. As such I think Android is a great OS for this purpose, with many affordable options in its stable.

3. As a classroom model, consider giving tablets to share rather than one to each child; this could more opportunities for collaboration and teaching via peers rather than a figure of authority (i.e., teacher). Unlike a desktop PC, a tablet is ideal because they are multi-touch and naturally collaborative – and there are plenty of free apps that take advantage of that.

The tablets we donated were Android PIPO U1 models, which, for the geeks out there is a Dual-Core 1.6Ghz running Android 4.1 on a 7” IPS 1280×800 screen, Wifi, Bluetooth and 16GB of onboard RAM with micro-SD Card expansion slot.

More details of the Tablet donations available over at the Outblaze blog.

Are Schools killing innovation and Entrepreneurship?

School’s are systematically stamping out creativity and slowing down innovation world wide by trying to standardize everything. Ken Robinson’s speech is a reminder that celebrating and encouraging the development of individual talent is much more likely to nurture creativity but most schools today focus on teaching in a standardized manner as if everyone was the same.

Schools kill creativity

There’s been a lot of talk that Innovation has been stalling, particularly in the classic areas of Science. For most of us who grew up to the whole “Tech Revolution” we didn’t have the benefit of being “educated” in that discipline. We had to discover it ourselves and essentially create our own future. There were no real courses one could attend for instance in the 80’s on the use of Computers and no teachers or mentors on how to do business over the Internet in the 90’s. We had to learn it by ourselves and be creative in the process and it is that unregulated and untaught subject matter that has created the worlds largest companies today in a span of just a few decades.

This also means that Schools have played a significant part in stamping out the Entrepreneurial spirit because, by definition, an Entrepreneur will try to stand out, take risks and be different which in most Schools is typically not encouraged. I’ll write more on that later.