If the past 20 years were dominated by the rise of the Internet, the next 20 years will be dominated by smart products that are seamlessly integrated into everyday life.
Think smart cars that drive themselves, rooms that adjust their temperature by comparing your body temperature with the temperature outside, and stoves that automatically start making your eggs a few minutes before you wake up.
Technologists call it, “the Internet of things.” This is the world your kids will be entering as they become adults with careers.
But how should we best prepare our kids for this next knowledge frontier? Enter: Maker education.
A “maker” is a 21st-century fusion of hacker, programmer, designer, and builder. “Maker Faires” are hosted around the world each year to encourage kids to become more than consumers – to start creating things through their own imagination. Last week in California, the original Maker Faire’s 10th anniversary drew in over 150,000 people.
Maker education reflects a greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, art, and math (or STEAM as it’s lovingly called by those who work in the education field).
I recently visited Wynwood Maker Camp in Miami, US where I saw 3D printed glasses designed by an 8-year-old girl for her visually-impaired father and an Oculus virtual reality headset that could take kids on a journey through the Amazon.
Although Beijing is seen as a growing hotbed for innovation, the offerings for kids are severely lacking. There’s a need for kids as young as elementary school to get their hands (and computer screens) dirty with creating, experimenting, and making. After all, being proficient with the foreign languages involved in code and computers may wind up being more important than being multilingual in English and Mandarin.
If your kids’ school doesn’t offer maker opportunities, here are a couple things you can do to jumpstart their maker education:
1. Download Scratch. Scratch was invented by MIT to help kids learn programming languages. It’s a free open-source tool that can be downloaded straight to your computer. Kids will have a great time learning to create their own animations and games using the program’s basic, user-friendly programming language. If you’d prefer an iPad equivalent, check out Hopscotch.
2. Buy a Lego Mindstorms Kit. Lego makes a great introductory robot kit, which makes it really easy for kids to make their growing code skills come alive. They also learn basic engineering and mechanics along the way!
3. Help found a CoderDojo in Beijing. The first CoderDojo, a free coding club for kids, in China came this year to Hangzhou. There isn’t one yet in Beijing, but Armada Education is planning to launch a Coder, Hacker, and Maker Lab in late summer. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in knowing more or being a part of the project.
4. Go to a Parenting Innovative, Creative, and Entrepreneurial Kids Meet-Up. The first meeting will be on Thursday, May 28 from 6-8pm at Caravan.
With these few easy steps, you’ll be on your way to raising your family’s little maker!
Kassandra Lee is a published poet, arts organizer, and education entrepreneur. She works at Armada Education, a start-up and laboratory school geared for experimenting with the world’s most innovative tools, methods, and environments for learning. You can follow Armada Education’s blog and join their weekly inspirational newsletter at ArmadaEd.com. In her free time she enjoys talking about education and bicycling around the eclectic hutong neighborhoods of Beijing in search of surprises.
Photo: Steve Jurvetson (Flickr)