When I was about 8 my friend Tim and I designed a robot. We had many ideas for what it could do and decided that must build it. We crept up to his parent’s attic, where his Dad kept the tools he used for his remote control air plane hobby, and started building. Our ideas knew few limits, but our skills certainly did, as did the tools and resources available to us.
We were really proud of the robot we created, and deservedly so. It was very well thought through, designed to solve real problems we had experienced and to do fun things around the house. We also learned quite a bit about materials when constructing it. As we took it in turns to push around and animate the various cardboard parts we got a glimpse of how our designs might be realised if we were grown up and able to actually make such a machine. That robot is a fond memory for me of the inventiveness of my childhood, and the power of make-believe.
Today, making a robot like we designed is not beyond the grasp of children the same age. The tools, such as the Raspberry Pi are cheap enough and powerful enough to make realising such ideas possible. The availability of information and learning resources to develop the skills needed to use them is abundant on the web.
It’s not just make believe now either, much as that is still an important part of childhood. Digital technology has already made a huge impact, and will continue to do so. It’s important that young people understand how this works, for so many reasons. The tech we use every days needs repairing when it breaks, we’re wasting so much money and damaging the environment just replacing things all the time. The decisions our governments and leaders of powerful organisations make about technology need to be understood and interrogated. The ways that technology ‘defaults’ cause us to subconsciously shift how we communicate with each other and live our lives should be considered, discussed and made intentional.
Supporting people, and not just children, to understand digital technology and intentionally make use of it in their lives they can is something I think is really important. It’s exciting too. When the Computing curriculum for England was created I stopped for a moment to consider a society where everyone has had some experience of programming, of computational thinking concepts, and of the kinds of problem solving this subject involves. I think that’s an incredibly exciting place.
That’s why I’ve joined the Raspberry Pi Foundation, starting today as their Research Manager. I’m going to be working with the fantastic team here to continue to develop our understanding of how people can be supported to learn about digital technology, and the impact that their work has. It’s a great time to be joining, with two Pi’s just being launched into space, teacher training spreading to the US and lots of new developments around the corner.
I will, of course, be sharing much more about what I’m working on here in the coming weeks. So keep an eye out and if this new role intersects with what you are doing drop me a line.
For now, I’m working on a reboot of that cardboard robot…
Also published on Medium.