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Children and tech: an alternative view

Tech often gets a bad rap - see how it beguiles our children into gaming for 8 hours a day, for a start. But a recent interview made me see things a little differently - and it might do the same for you.

Often the default stance when it comes to our children and their use of technology is to panic about the amount of time they spend gaming, messing around on social media or staring at a plethora of other screens.

But last week I had a really interesting chat with Christian Pritchard, Headmaster of Beachborough School, which really challenged my views and made me look at things a bit differently. Christian, who arrived at the school last Autumn, is a passionate advocate of tech-based teaching. Here’s what he had to say on this most contentious of subjects.

Beachborough school, Brackley

Many of us feel nervous about technology – why do you feel so passionate about embracing it?

Parents are often worried about screen time with their children, and when they talk to me about limiting access to tech, what they’re actually talking about is very specific – it’s tech for entertainment, so gaming, videos and social media. I understand those concerns and we absolutely do need to manage screen time and access to social media. But that is just a tiny component of tech. There’s a phenomenal amount of tech out there being used in positive ways and it is an integral component of everyday life – communications, infrastructure, medicine, transport etc.

The issue is our children have been immersed in tech since they were born but, as adults, we haven’t and that brings an element of scepticism!  When we were young, elements of technology either did not exist – Google was created in 1998 – or were just in their infancy, but it’s vital we teach the next generation (our kids) how to embrace technology and give them the skills needed for future jobs that don’t even exist yet, as technology is the fastest developing sector in terms of innovation and new thinking, and is most definitely here to stay.

 

What’s your advice for parents?

If you have a child interested in tech, have a conversation about it with them – ask what they are interested in it. If your child is an obsessive gamer, try to channel that passion in a different way. Say, OK, you like that game, how about learning to design or code your own games? That turns it from an isolated, insular activity to a collaborative, active one. In an academic setting, the benefits are even more apparent, as children create themes, storylines, dialog between characters, objectives, goals, and for the more experienced players the underlying mechanics of the game.

Encourage your child to move away from the concept of technology for recreation and entertainment and to see it in a broader, deeper way. Let them experience working examples of tech – to see it in real-life settings really helps them understand how it works. Also, why not let your child teach YOU about new apps and features on our mobile or tablet? It doesn’t matter if you’re already a tech-whiz. The role-reversal will empower them to put their technical know-how to good use (and you might learn some new tech tricks!).

 

What’s your approach?

At Beachborough we’re passionate about developing the technologists of the future – it’s tremendously exciting to help children understand how technology works, grasp what it can do and to see it in action in real life settings. Yes, coding in a classroom is fine, but actually going to an Amazon distribution centre and seeing the Kiva Robots being programmed to pack and ship brings a real purpose to the learning.

Our children use the internet every day, but at Beachborough we teach them how the internet works, why it needs to change and what the internet of the future may actually look like. We talk about white hackers and the role they play when computer systems are attacked. So our approach is far removed from the world of children using tech to play hours of Fortnite or watch back-to-back You Tube videos.

That said, it’s also vital that the children appreciate that technology is only one component in their lives and it’s not the only way to learn. Children playing outside, collaborating with each other and learning to work together without technology is priceless and I also want to protect that.

 

What tech are you currently excited about?

We have a brilliant Technology, Engineering and Design (TED) Centre at Beachborough (above) that helps the children use cutting edge technology in their every day lessons – recently they calculated how aerodynamic design impacts on the speed of electric cars, using computer aided design software and then laser cutters and our 3D printers to manufacture designs that maximised energy use, speed and distance of travel.

We’ve also utilised technology in other lessons, such as using drones in maths. Remember how we used to calculate areas using trundle wheels? The children are now geo-fencing, setting a drone to calculate areas of the school grounds. And then there’s augmented reality – in the school science labs when we’re learning about the human body, we can show an augmented reality journey our food takes through the body from mouth to stomach and, er, beyond! That brings a whole new level of clarity and understanding.

 

What about girls – what can we do about the lack of women working in tech?

The ratio of boys to girls going into those industries is 7/1. It shouldn’t be like that and schools need to do more to create positive role models. It’s a big challenge for us all, but the heads in our tech, IT and science departments are all inspiratinal women and we have found that our girls want to get their hands on the controllers as much as the boys.

When it comes to girls in technology it’s also vital to expose them to current, relevant entrepreneurs and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths) innovators so we’ve just hosted our first ‘Inspiration for Innovation’ business event for Year Six pupils with over 100 children from the local area meeting innovative VIPs from the motor industry – many of whom are women. We have several more events planned for years 7 and 8 in the spring, including some events specifically just for girls. Girls may not be interested in developing the next Angry Birds computer game, but perhaps they are into the idea of coding an app that helps bring clean water to communities in need. We’ve found the juxtaposition of tech and philanthropy to be especially effective in inspiring girls in STEAM.

 

Any suggestions to inspire a child who’s interested in tech?

  • Take them to see it in action. The Science Museum in London is the obvious choice (above)
  • I’d also recommend the National Science + Media Museum in Bradford, Silverstone University Technical College and a visit to Bletchley Park is for budding coder and programmers. They’ll have a blast experimenting with tech gadgets with their friends (and won’t even realise they’re learning).
  • Try signing your child up for after-school clubs (like a robotics team) and activities that focus on STEAM. We have found the more relaxed environment in our after-school clubs allows the children to get creative and collaborate with friends.
  • Curate the ultimate STEAM toy collection. Thanks to today’s top educational toy-makers young boys and girls can expand their creative horizons and learn about engineering, circuitry, coding, and more in a fun, accessible way with so many exciting toys on the market. Check out companies, such as www.kiwico.com, for amazing STEAM kits for children of all ages to create and build at home.
  • Experiment with online coding courses. If your child would prefer to learn to code, use Photoshop, or build a website from the comfort of home, there are a variety of fun and effective online STEAM learning platforms – many are free.
  • Encourage Out-of-the-Box Thinking. Whether your child is 5, 9 or 12 seize every opportunity to encourage their creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, and on-the-spot problem-solving. These are the skills that future high-tech employers want to see, and we encourage the same skills at Beachborough to empower each child to reach their full potential at school.

What do you think about Christian’s stance on technology? Comments below please! If your interest is piqued, head along to Beachborough’s Open Day on Sat 2 March, or check out my review.

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