I thought I would share the content of a recent talk I gave at Health Tech Women UK, a cameo appearance I had agreed to do in Manchester. I have worked with Louise for some time, and met Maxine at a recent conference, its great work they are doing and really important, you should go along.
My daughter Sienna is the youngest honorary member, her recent blog post I wrote on her behalf was published as their blog post of the month. Interestingly that post had more traffic than the entire history of my blog combined, re-affirming the importance of quality content if it was ever in doubt.
(although that was soon superseded with the traffic this post received)
My talk was about the work I am doing, but also about activating women in technology from a young age. We are at a time where the iPad baby sitter is a common sight, children everywhere using technology (I am not judging, we do it with our kids too) but there is a difference between exposing children to the use of technology at an early age and exposing them to the way technology can be adapted to solve particular problems to meet their needs.
Homework – An Example
Sienna came home with homework from pre-school, homework at 3 year old, they start them young these days. It was basically a bunch of cards on a keyring with a letter on each card in a random order. Our job as parents was to take her through them until she could recognise and recite each of the letters. She found it fun to start with, it didn’t take her long to learn it, or so we thought until we reshuffled them and it was clear there was a blend of her memory of recognising the shape, but also the order.
Computer Science and Electronics to the rescue
Our last nerdy outing for daddy and daughter time was at Liverpool Makefest where Sienna was exposed to electronics, 3d printing, robots and other such things.
We bought a shrimp kit which is basically the components of a basic Arduino, an actual Arduino, an LED Matrix and lots of other bits and bobs.
We decided to use these tools to build something that would enable her to learn to use technology to solve a problem – learning the alphabet.
We started small, using the shrimp kit we hooked wired everything up, using her little fingers to pop the tiny components onto a breadboard. We would use sample code and push it to the chip and the clock would cycle over the code and in turn toggle a little led on and off. We played with the speed of the led flashing for a bit of extra fun. The project blink details are here, I recommend it for adults too.
Our next task was to use the Arduino and the led matrix to display the alphabet in a random order and to make words. A quick search of github and we found this Arduino LED Matrix Sketch project that was exactly what we wanted.
Once again Sienna wired things up, referring to the wiring diagram, we uploaded the code and then gave it a test, here is an example we did for HTW UK:
She now loves to practice her alphabet, she has learned to deconstruct words into letters and while her school clearly plays the most active part in teaching her, it’s clear she has picked it up much quicker as a result of teaching her in a different way over the last month.
Our future is in little hands
With the advances is technology it’s obvious to see that it’s going to be in most places, and as a result I believe it will become more passive and our future will be in the hands of the minority who have a natural ability and desire to code. It’s great schools are teaching kids to code these days, but I do feel as a parent, and an advocate for exposing children to tech at the earliest possible age, we need to teach them how technology can be used, made and adapted to solve problems for themselves and others and not just consumed.
We have already completed our next project, it’s taken a lot of time, work and patience but the result is amazing. That is for another blog post, for now, you can see Sienna changing the content the matrix displays to show off to her nan.