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.

Tony Yates standing at the front of health tech women
Sitting in front of a friendly bunch

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(although that was soon superseded with the traffic this post received)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.

Blink Image

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:

HTW UK Scrolling on a LED Matrix

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.