Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Teaching with Robots

Last week while perusing the net for news I happened to chance upon this BBC article and I have to say, it grabbed my attention completely. The article talks about a recent Kickstarter project that successfully managed to achieve its funding goal to design and produce two robots called Bo and Yana.

At first glance these rather cute robots may look like ordinary children's playthings but they are actually for a serious purpose that is far reaching in importance. While truly made for children from 5 years and above, these robots can be programmed by the child to do many sorts of things (like acting out a story). The child essentially becomes a hacker while playing, learning how to conceptualise programming with languages like Scratch. Awesome!

The robots reflect the philosophy of their maker, Play-i, and indeed many education experts in the modern world today; in the post-computer era, must it not be a priority to educate children to become not only able to manage computing devices but also know how to program such devices? Indeed, this may not be as far fetched as us trying to teach children not just to read other people's books and papers, but also how to pick up a pen and trace letters, words and finally ideas on a piece of paper. Such knowledge requires mastering language and the same goes for computing.

Some may dismiss this idea as irrelevant to the modern child but perhaps they wouldn't dismiss it if they understood what actually drives computers. It is a language that bodes evil for many children unfortunately and it is called mathematics. Therefore learning more about computers and programming should make you a better math student, right? The idea is tantalizing and is endorsed by many luminaries in the mathematical field. For good or ill, our thinking is being shaped by these thinking machines just as much as we shape their creation. And Play-i's Bo and Yana are a testament to that end.