Kids and Talent / a continuous research

March 1, 2019

This is a continuous research topic, which is updated as I advance and find time to update it / last updated 2020-03-28 12:00 CET

My interest in computers began at the age of 8—about the time, when the 6502 CPU enabled the personal computer revolution and the Apple ][, the BBC Micro and the like were created.

David Bowie says in one interview, that he started to make music, because it was a tool of change. Ten or twenty years later, and he would have become just a fan, a collector of records.

Anthony Bourdain writes in Kitchen Confidential, that he became a cook because of the subculture.

Technology was, to me, something similar. I was fascinated by people, who did it, and I loved what it did. I also dreamt of owning a zoo (like Gerald Durrell), a bookstore, a publishing house, to be a photograph and a cameraman (like Vittorio Storaro), but for one reason or another, like Bowie, in these areas I remained just a fan.

Kids and Mentors

In My Family and Other Animals Gerald Durrell is mentored by Dr. Theodore Stephanides at the age of 10—which establishes and gives a perspective to his interest in animals and nature. Durrell ends up writing numerous books and founding his own zoo on the Island of Jersey, which is still there even today (I have been there).

There is countless proof (which I am documenting, by and by), that age 8—12 the primary curiosity develops.

And that w/ proper tutoring, it can remain there for life.

Real Unlimited Continuum

I have always found toys disappointing. Toys have a limit. A toy sewing machine cannot really do real stuff.

At age of 10 I was inspired to design a machine, which my father’s company could actually build. My father, however, remained vague about the “actually build” part. When I pressed, I found out that there is no way they will build it. I immediately lost interest. When my 10 years old daughter wanted to try a tablet (not those things w/ a display we call tablets today, but the black plastic w/ a stylus, where the drawing is visible on the computer’s screen, which were called tablets a decade ago)—I had the choice between buying a toy one and a professional one. And I went for the professional. The result was that she had the real experience, did tons of stuff w/ it and is still using it, a decade later. I believe, that when trying, children must have the real experience, not an imitation, which resembles the reality—a toy.

When I began my technology talent scouting & nurseries, I decided to offer kids the real thing. I went to companies and asked for real projects. They gave them to me and I gave them to the kids. And the kids delivered. There are, of course, a couple of a secret ingredients which made this success possible, but the bottom line is that I gave the kids an unlimited real continuum.

8+ / current practices and research

My current research and practice are focused on the youngest age possible—8+.

What approaches are best to capture the attention of a kid and to lead her or him on?

Hohe Schule

The Dahoum nurseries enable kids to do what they already feel they want to do. Similarly to the Hohe Schule—where horses encouraged to express natural movements.

Reformpädagogik/Progressive Education

The Reformpädagogik/Progressive Education speaks of “aus eigenem Antrieb”, which translates best into “intrinsic motivation“—the most powerful driving force.

The Tool(s)

The toolkit of a Dahoum nursery must answer to several basic requirements—

— be real
— allow unlimited continuum
— appeal to kids 8+
— appeal to both boys and girls

block-based visual programming languages

A block-based visual programming language like MIT’s Scratch answers all four: object-oriented and event driven; control structures, variables (including cloud variables), operators and messaging; excellent bi-directional link to a graphic environment to both move and animate, and receive feedback from interactions between objects and with the user; the possibility to use ready characters and stages or draw/upload one’s own; the ability to remove the visual code and continue into real JavaScript.

Scratch encourages sharing, reuse and combination of code. 

Scratch is powered by the MIT MediaLab and is deeply rooted in scientific approach to education.  

Dahoum founded and is leading a MeetUp in Darmstadt dedicated to Scratch, focused on parents and educators on one side and on kids on another.

Dahoum supported the Amsterdam Light Festival w/ the development of a Scratch based tool to enable 1 000 pupils to create and animate the eyes of fantasy animals, which were then projected on screens hidden in the bushes during the Festival.

In 2020 I am leading two nurseries—at the Freie Comenius Schule in Darmstadt and at the Dr. E. Boekmanschool in Amsterdam. The nurseries go for one quarter as part of the curriculum and are then followed by continuous nursery as part the school.

I am also doing a 1920s Sam Mussabini/Theodore Stephanides inspired tutoring for individual kids.

bridge to JavaScript

My own research and childhood experience, as well as the Scratch statistics, show that the interest begins to explode at age of 8 and peaks (in respect to Scratch) at age of 12, when it begins to decline.

Source https://scratch.mit.edu/statistics/

But that’s not the end.

The great thing about block-based visual programming languages, is that they offer a real unlimited continuum.

A candidate here is BlockLike.js

BlockLike.js follows the Scratch model, moving the kid closer to reality and to the power of the real tools.

A second candidate is s2js.com

In one of the cases, where I had an insanely inspired kid, who had already pushed Scratch to beyond its borders, when he saw s2js.com—he launched like a rocket.

A third candidate (which should be probably a 1st candidate) is Modding Scratch. Modding creates Scratch functionalities and presentation, which are not available in the standard version. A great example for Modding Scratch is the Nacht Loerrrders project of the Amsterdam Light Festival, where I assisted w/ the  Modding, by providing a very smart kid I had scouted several years earlier, who could do it. 

A complication can be also Blocky.

A great moment to bridge into JavaScript is when collaboration becomes a topic. Scratch is not great for collaboration (more than one person working on the same project). JavaScript via code repository is.

bridge into database-driven websites

KeystoneJS

bridge into cluster computing and supercomputing

A Beowulf cluster w/ Raspberry Pi—

bridge into robotics

For kids who prefer robotics to screen based stuff, I am researching into visual block-based programmable components, which can transition into JavaScript programmable components.

One option is Raspberry Pi and Scratch—which has access to the Raspberry Pi’s inputs and outputs.

I’ll publish more results when available.

bridge into unlimited continuum

via Node.js — JavaScript and it’s more strict sibling — TypeScript — offer a perfect bridge into unlimited continuum.

JavaScript/TypeScript is the core of powerful UI framework such as Angular, Vue, React and Polymer.

and Node.js is becoming the core entry into the cloud / AWS, Azure

Kids and Technology / Right and Wrong

When bringing technology to kids, one must think of the responsibility.

Here are a couple of articles giving a starting point —

8 digital life skills all children need – and a plan for teaching them

How much screen time should children have?

Boys and Girls (an Empiric Study)

I have been scouting and nursing 8-12 and teenage girls and boys for several decades / read

Practical Successes

In 2019 I helped the Amsterdam Light Festival w/ a Scratch Mod.

From 2020 I am teaching Scratch and More in two schools and one juvenile centre in Darmstadt, Germany as well as in two schools in Amsterdam.

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