The incorporation of children into the world of new technologies in general and programming, in particular, is more and more necessary every day in an increasingly digital environment. The emergence of new professions and the transformation of traditional ones make it inevitable that children learn these skills as soon as possible.
Along these lines, Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated in an interview with MIT Technology Review that “learning to program should be mandatory for any student in public and private schools.” In this sense, there are different initiatives that promote the development of skills in digital and technological matters from an early age. Let’s see some of them.
Aloha Mental Arithmetic, the math won’t be difficult again
The human brain is divided into two parts: the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. Each of the parties processes the information in a different way. Despite its more than 100,000 million neurons, humans only take advantage of 10% of its potential. It weighs approximately 1,360 kg and, on the one hand, the left side thinks in words, and the right side thinks in pictures.
The current lifestyle encourages people to develop more the left hemisphere, however, the right hemisphere hides great potential. Great characters like, for example, Albert Einstein owed their genius to the fact that their right hemisphere had a high level of development.
During the first years of life, the neural connections that determine the configuration of the adult brain are formed. Therefore, the connections that are not strengthened during this important stage will die.
In this context, and in order to favour the creation of a dense neural network, the Aloha Mental Arithmetic program has created a teaching system aimed at students from 5 to 13 years of age .
They use, among other elements, the oldest known calculation instrument: the abacus. Through a rectangular structure, with index cards that slide with the fingers along with columns, children learn to perform arithmetic operations using this ancient instrument. With practice and over time they are able to visualize it in their head and learn to perform the operations mentally. In this way, children learn to solve complex calculations quickly in a fun way.
The Aloha Mental Arithmetic program bases its operation precisely on the fact that all received numerical stimuli are processed directly in the left hemisphere. Most people who have not developed their right hemisphere solve any arithmetic operation on the left hemisphere itself. Instead, a person who has trained her mind with the Aloha Mental Arithmetic program will activate both parts of the brain. Therefore, the individual sends the numerical information from the left hemisphere to the right hemisphere, where the numerical stimulus will be transformed into images. An imaginary abacus will be built with which the arithmetic operation will be performed. The image generated at the end of the operation will return to the left hemisphere where it will be translated back into numerical language.
In addition, and thanks to this system of teaching mathematics, children not only prosper in this subject but also in other disciplines, since it increases their confidence when facing new challenges.
Talentum Schools, training in technological and digital skills for the little ones
Talentum Schools is, on the other hand, Telefónica’s program that offers children and young people free training and exchange of knowledge in digital skills in schools throughout Spain. More than 20,000 students have benefited from the face-to-face courses and online workshops given through the initiative’s platform since its creation in 2013.
Talentum Schools encourages the digital vocation of the youngest through innovative courses in digital skills. Subjects include robotics, mobile apps, programming, augmented reality, design, and electronics.
In addition, and as a differential feature of the program, most of the Talentum Schools mentors are young students and professionals who come from Telefonica’s Talentum program. And they are responsible, and a fundamental key, for the success and good reception that the program has had since its inception among students, parents and educators.
Imagine a university without professors. Students only learn by doing projects. Each of them has to be completed within 48 hours and each morning the students receive a new assignment. Jobs pile up, you have to deal with disparity, tackle the disorganization that spreads with the influx of tasks, and optimizes time. This all sounds a lot like the real world, closer to the job market than to padding academic limbo. And all this happens at École 42. This atypical French programming school has been operating in Paris for four years.
There are no professors to teach the subjects and the students organize their work. As projects are completed, student-to-student learning is encouraged. The training is divided into modules, such as integration, algorithms or artificial intelligence, and languages, such as Python, C, or Java.
Training at École 42 is free. To enter the school, candidates pass several tests. The last one is a kind of camp that lasts a month. In this, the applicants have to prove to be the best. Registration is earned by meritocracy, according to those responsible for the centre.
Those who enter the École 42 education have between three and five years of free training. About 80% of students find a job before finishing their studies, according to the school, and all have a job after they finish.
The founder and benefactor of École 42 are French businessmen Xavier Niel. He has spent 48 million euros of his fortune on the Paris campus and another 46 million on another school that opened last year in Silicon Valley.
Niel’s goal is for the Silicon Valley campus to grow to 10,000 students. From there, the idea of opening a branch of the school in China will be considered. The businessman does not disclose any financial interest behind the schools. Rather, their intention has been to create a possibility for free education and to combat deficiencies in the traditional education system.
But the truth is that maintaining schools is 7 million euros a year. An invoice that one of the school’s students will take care of in the future when one of them emerges as the next digital entrepreneur. At least that’s how Niel thinks.
By the way, the name is not a coincidence but a very freaky reference. The number 42 refers to the popular novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, later made into a movie. In the crazy world created by Douglas Adams, 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and all things.
In general terms, educational robotics supports young people to apply their knowledge of physics, mathematics, logic, etc., while acquiring other skills such as teamwork, developing real projects and solving problems. Within this scope, two types of use of programming and robotics as support within the classroom can be distinguished: robotics and educational programming, and programming and robotics as a social element.
Educational use consists of a set of physical or programming elements that motivate students to build, program, reason logically, and create new interfaces or devices; here, programming and robotic technologies are especially beneficial in teaching STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
On the other hand, as a social element, programming and robotics can be used as a game or gamification, in such a way that autonomous or semi-autonomous systems interact with humans or other physical agents or software in roles such as coach, partner, tangible device or registry of information.
Today there are already thousands of tutorials (online videos, assembly instructions, texts, etc.) and kits that facilitate the introduction into the world of robotics, both within classrooms and individually. A clear example is DYOR, an educational package created by professors and students of the Polytechnic University of Valencia that allows ESO and FP students to learn to make robots in a simple way.
Another example would be Next 2.0, a curricular robotics project designed by the Edelvives company aimed at work in the classroom from the preschool-infant period to primary school, relying on additional material for each student, guides for the teacher, as well as various applications; The main objective of Next 2.0 is to initiate programming knowledge to the little ones for the development of prevention skills, planning and development of the trial-error process, in a cooperative and problem-solving context.
Digital Education for the Youngest
In addition to all the facilities already mentioned, companies like Telefónica also support the insertion of robotics and programming in classrooms. In this sense, during the past school year, Telefónica launched the first edition of the National Interscholastic Programming and Robotics Contest in which students from almost 400 schools worked in teams creating technological and innovative solutions to participate.
On the other hand, Talentum promotes digital education through programs such as Talentum Schools, which offer children and young people free training and exchange of knowledge in digital skills in schools throughout Spain.
Together, robotics and programming introduce an extraordinary dimension to the learning experience, since computational power is not only located on a screen but also intangible objects that share a physical space with students and the possibility of being altered by the environment.
Learning through robotics increases the commitment of the youngest in activities based on manipulation, the development of motor skills, eye-hand coordination and a way of understanding abstract ideas. Additionally, robot-based activities provide an appropriate context for cooperative behaviour and teamwork.