The Herald reports:
It began with a little girl and a dining table full of junk.
The little girl’s family might have been poor, but the assortment of bits and pieces her father would bring home and spread about the kitchen unlocked a special world few kids ever got to see.
Her father, frantically trying to teach himself aircraft avionics for a better job in the military, had surrounded himself with soldering irons, engineering textbooks and items like a ZX Spectrum computer that he hardly knew how to use.
The little girl began tinkering with the junk herself and trying to solder pieces of it together, before too many burns on her fingers forced dad to give her a tutorial.
Soon, the pair were buying broken toasters, televisions and washing machines to fix up – anything bought new was a waste of money.
“Just taking them apart and understanding how electricity was flowing through and the information was transferring … yeah man, that’s awesome,” says Dr Michelle Dickinson, today one of our country’s most inspirational and best-known scientists.
“It was a secret world that only me and my dad knew existed.”
A very cool backstory.
Dr Dickinson spent today working with kids in Rotorua, ahead of the charity’s official launch in Auckland on Wednesday.
Beyond getting kids hooked on science and tech generally, it will have the strategic targets of reaching those pupils between the ages of eight and 11 – the period that matters most when plotting future career courses – and especially girls and Maori and Pasifika children.
This reflects the present shortage of women and Maori and Pasifika people in STEM (science, engineering, maths or technology), which itself as a tertiary level subject has long taken a back-seat to social science and humanities.
The urgent case for more of these tech-savvy people in our country is straight-forward: we’re going to need them in the future to tackle and solve our biggest problems, whatever they might be.
And our next top engineers and technologists don’t have to be only those earning top grades in Year 7 or 8 at the moment.
“There are four learning styles, and one of them is kinesthetic – that’s more or less hands-on; you learn by building, breaking, doing – and those aren’t the kids who necessarily do very well academically at school,” Dr Dickinson said.
“It’s implied that they’re failures, but actually, they are successful in a different way – and our charity wants to make sure that kids know that they’re successful, even if their exam grades say they’re not.”
Over the next three years, Dr Dickinson and her team aim to host a different workshop in a new place every few weeks.
“The idea is that we come to you – but our bigger motive is actually not just to tech the kids, but educate the teachers and empower them to have confidence in teaching something that can be quite daunting,” she said.
“We want to make sure they are able to embrace the technology, and we can help build their competence on how to teach with it.”
For educators, there’s a specially designed open-source curriculum to help them; but for kids, this isn’t boring stuff.
Just think of being able to programme your own robot and race it against your classmates’ bots, or coding your very own computer game and playing it within an hour.
Sounds like a great initiative.
Dr Dickinson’s ways to get your kids hooked on tech
1) Sign up for hour of code, a free one hour online lesson in coding for all ages. Visit: hourofcode.com
2) Design your next invention using tinkercad. Visit www.tinkercad.com then print it using your local 3D printer at www.3dhubs.com.
3) Get your kids to code their own computer game using a simple drop and drag sequence at Scratch. Visit www.scratch.mit.edu
4) Open up old electronics and let your kids discover circuit boards and microchips.
5) Run a fridge magnet in the same direction along a screwdriver a few times to magnetise it. Show it works by trying to pick up a screw before and after the magnetisation.