LittleBits @ Maker Faire Amsterdam

LittleBits, the brainchild of Ayah Bdeir, an alumna of the MIT Media Lab, is a library of Electronics dubbed as ‘LEGOs for the iPad generation.’ They are pieces of an electronics  which snap together with magnets to create a working circuit, they have a simple color coding, blue for power, green for output and pink for sensors. You can make all kinds of fun things with them. I had just ordered an extended kit as a prototype tool for the new school I am working on called DNS, when I saw the call to take part in the Amsterdam Maker Festival and thought lets join in. And see what children would want to do with LittleBits.

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They look very friendly.

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Putting together the LittleBits, light, slider, motor.

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Attaching things to the motor to see what happens.

On LittleBits:
It wasn’t really a workshop, we just played together and tried things out, some adults were totally glued as were some children, and kept trying different ways to make things turn bleep and light up.
The LittleBits are easy to work with and everyone young and old found them user friendly, on the down side, they are less adjustable than you would want them to be, as in the motion sensor would need to be in a really quiet room to work, the LED light when connected to a sound sensor mainly responds to high tones and stays on for a couple of seconds before going out and you can’t adjust that.
Another point of concern is the strength of the battery which wore down very quickly and the strength of the fan which wouldn’t really blow a sandwich plastic bag up, maybe only for feathers?

On Amsterdam Maker Festival:
This was a try out version, they put the whole thing together in 5 weeks so fair play. It was held in a perfect location, a former factory in Amsterdam North and there were a number of engaging children’s exhibits to interact with, so excellent for kids. I hope when the full version comes, next May 23rd and 24th, 2014 they will also attract the adult Maker scene for example people like Fred Abels, Plakken en Knippen from the Hague, the Dutch DIY Bio group etc. Looking forward!

See here for the flickr set of photos, from Saturday the 7th of September at Maker Faire Amsterdam

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The potential of Mobile Open Education resources for students in developing economies.

A Mobile Leap?

Connecting teachers and students in developing economies to open education resources through their mobiles. A huge potential.

It’s now possible for people almost anywhere to connect to quality learning materials on almost any topic. If you want to know how to grow tomatoes or to study nuclear physics, you can watch a ‘how to’ youtube video or follow a free course online, from Coursera, sometimes gaining a certificate from a world-renowned university. That is, if you know that the resources exist and have sufficient online access. Two factors often not in place for schools in developing economies.

In an effort to bridge the access to OER gap, a wealth of organisations such as the Commonwealth for Learning and Connexions are collaborating to gather, translate and share available Open Education Resources (OER) for their partners and schools in low resource contexts.

At the same time, while many teachers in developing countries are unable to further their own education, or gain access to quality learning materials, they do regularly have access to a basic handset or a feature phone. A feature phone which can perhaps access the internet and can play videos from the SD card.

Three important departure points come to mind as to how we could harness the huge potential of OER:

1. How can we alert teacher’s to this trend and connect them to relevant online resources, either for their own professional development or for use in the classroom?
This, whilst taking into account obstacles such as low bandwidth, lack of time, cost and old handsets.

2. Can departments of education curate and select curriculum specific resources and share them to school using sd cards from phone to phone for example ?

3. What is the potential for students to follow extra courses, using their phones, considering the need for sustained motivation and the usual obstacles of cost and bandwidth. Is there perhaps need for an app to connect end users to the resources most suited to their context?

In the coming months I will explore these three questions, using ‘User Scenarios’ to explore how the growing trend of online and open educational resources can be appropriated to offer new opportunities via mobile for teachers, students and education systems in developing and post conflict economies.

I will be building on my work experiences of the last 10 years at Butterfly Works, working in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Afghanistan working with multi-discipline education teams to co-create curriculum compatible, open and interactive resources. And of course inspired by the UNESCO and EFA drive – amongst other international bodies – for quality teacher’s for developing economies and the challenge of how to motivate and train so many new teacher’s.

Further my explorations will be informed by the recent Mc Kinsey report ‘How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better’, the Uncollege Manifesto, the Maker Movement, the FrameWork for 21st Century Learning, the Flipped Classroom, the Mac Arthur DML Badges project, Simon Simek, Mozilla Labs, mLearn 2012, the broader Open Education movement and more.

I’ll be glad to hear from others who are exploring similar questions.

Envisaging my Ideal School. User Case in 2015

As part of my course work at THNK.org and my current research into what is a great education, I wrote this imagined User Case & Day in the Life of a student at
‘the World School for Social and Creative Entrepreneurs

User Case, Meet Anne

Anne is 14 years, living in 2015 and she goes to the World School of Social and Creative Entrepreneurs in Amsterdam and Paris.
She graduated from primary school 2 years earlier proficient in reading, writing, spelling, geography, history, sciences, Dutch and English, with a proficiency plus in visual expression and abstract maths and below proficiency in work speed and story telling. She thinks she wants to be a designer but isn’t sure at all.  Her hobbies are climbing trees, drawing and cooking.

Since she joined the World School of Social and Creative Entrepreneurs, 2 years ago she has done 4 major projects, 2 minor ones and set up an online business.
Major Projects are driven by cross topic learning objectives set by school staff and Minor projects are student driven where only the process is set by staff.
Projects are done in groups of 4/5 students, mainly in same age groups but sometimes with mixed ages and between school, such as Amsterdam and Paris.

An example of a major project is ‘Design a curriculum for primary school group 6 on the history of Europe, covering, language culture, politics and economies. An example of a minor project is where students watch a series of self chosen TED videos and subsequently write and deliver their own 9 minute TED talk on a theme of their choosing.

The business Anne set up is called iAnne and it profiles her Lego Architecture and her Plastic Bag Fashions and sells the How to instructions. She hasn’t sold that much but she has learned much about copyright, online selling, business maths and branding and been invited to give workshops in two primary schools.

Next year Anne will get the chance to go to Paris for two months, where she will attend the Paris branch of her school, practise her french and work together with students whom she already knows from a major project on which they collaborated.

World School for Social and Creative Entrepreneurs

The school philosophy

The World School for Social and Creative Entrepreneurs believes that the reason to educate people is

  1. To give them tools for their natural creativity
  2. To believe in themselves and their dreams
  3. To give back to the world
  4. To give them tools to learn what they need to know, understand or be able to do.
  5. To manage their emotional self

So they can live in harmony with themselves, their community, the planet and creatively contribute in their unique way to a better world. See here for the School Manifesto.

The school combines curriculum staples, collaborative project work, individually motivated projects and care for the individuals personal and spiritual development. Students are encouraged to work hard, to discover their dreams, to work in teams and to take themselves and their fellow human beings seriously.

Day in the Life.

Anne gets up with her family at home in Amsterdam at 7.30, she needs to get to school for 9 am. She has breakfast, makes her lunch box grabs her laptop and heads for the bus by 8.30.

Every school day starts with Motion and Focus Class, students can choose between group sports, stretching and in the summertime swimming. Each session ends with focus, which is a style of guided meditation, delivered alternatively by teachers and students.

Anne’s spends every morning between the rest of the morning working on her Major Project, from 10 am to 12 am in her class group. The two-hour session consists of a number of cycles of video or instruction followed by team reflection and making and writing. The subjects Anne then studies would be for example, in the case of the European History project: french language, maths, political systems and European history.

This is how the week schedule looks:

Time Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9.00 Movement Movement Movement Movement Minor Project
10.00 Major Project Major Project Major Project Major Project Pers. Project
12.00 Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Home
13.00 Minor Project Minor Project Minor Project Minor Project Online Minor
14.30 Personal Project Personal Project Personal Project Personal Project Online Personal
15.30 Group Closing Reflection Closing Reflection Free
16.00 Home Home Home Home Free

After lunch Anne works on her minor project in her group. Her personal project follows which includes a meeting with her mentor. The day ends with a classical group exchange. Anne’s best friend Zoe sings a song for the group, which is a political commentary on the failing of the Dutch green party. It is part of her personal project: in which she is writing and performing a series of songs, on issues that she cares about. On alternate days Anne has a reflection session in her buddy group, there they talk about what they achieved that day, what they are thankful for and what they would like to work on the next day.

Technology Supported

All students have their own light-weight laptop, with access to wifi, and the schools intranet. On the intranet, Anne maintains her learning plan, updates her personal portfolio and links to the major project collaboration spaces. She maintains a list of courses she is following online and the badges she has achieved. There are also group forums, for the class, per topic and for the staff.

Teacher’s and mentors.

Teachers at the World School for Social and Creative Entrepreneurs, have all a specific area of interest about which they know a lot such, have usually started their own social or creative venture, are motivated to share, motivate and care about young people. They believe in the autonomy of young people and their intrinsic talents.

The role of the teacher is to co-develop Major projects and curate the inputs for students. To guide students both as individuals, being their mentor and through student groups dynamics. And to be a role model for students in their life-long learning approach to life.

The teacher works with according to a code of conduct which guides the teacher, student interaction and the safety of students when undertaking real life activities such as setting up a business.

Attribution.

This envisaged school experience, is inspired by a combination of sources including, my own experiences designing education, the curriculum approach at Thnk.org, the Vrij School, Amsterdam the Green school, Bali the UNIC school, Utrecht, the School of Life for atheists of Alain Botton, the Uncollege Manifesto, the Maker Movement, and the FrameWork for 21st Century Learning, the Flipped Classroom, the Mac Arthur DML Badges project, Simon Simek, Mozilla Labs, the Open Education movement and others.

Let me know if it resonates with you!