This Startup Is Teaching Kids To Code With IoT Technology

This Startup Is Teaching Kids To Code With IoT Technology
Design

U.K.-based SAM LABS wants to teach your child to code in biology class

Ido Lechner, Home Editor
  • 3 october 2017

With the inclusion of the arts in STEM education to form a more well-rounded ‘STEAM’ (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum, the initiative to integrate new areas of study such as robotics or computer science has itself picked up steam in the last couple of years. Endeavoring to teach children to be creators rather than just consumers by updating the scholastic structure to reflect our increasingly technical world, the modern classroom has embraced screens, keyboards and even smart toys to prepare students for life post-graduation. From physical products like Lego Mindstorms, to cross-platforms digital experiences like Roblox to Osmo’s marriage of the real and virtual worlds with Pizza Co., the spiked demand for STEAM-driven educational games is catalyzing innovation in the learning space and has proven that when used intelligently, technology isn’t merely a distraction but rather a potent and relevant tool for teaching.

Among the latest entries within the educational products ecosystem, SAM LAB’s STEAM KIT is one that you won’t want to miss if you happen to be a parent or teacher looking to spice up their syllabus. As a cross-curriculum toy that can be used anywhere from teaching biology to the arts, the STEAM KIT is quite versatile as a tool for visualizing abstract concepts. Through a connected windows and macOS app, students can learn to code using an intuitive drag and drop interface that helps them conceptualize the creation process without hampering their imagination by forcing them to do everything via a command line. For a hands-on demo of the STEAM KIT and a better understanding of the implications it has on education, PSFK sat down with CEO Joachim Horn to discuss how SAM came to be, and where the company is taking education in the next few years.

Kicking off our conversation, Horn showed us the kit and walked us through how to make different variations of basic switches using the available buttons. You can attach a proximity sensor block to an LED and stand close to the device to light it up. Affix wheels to a rotor on a block, and connect it to a manual button to create a click-to-drive car. In time, you can stack these effects, code in your own additions and even integrate codeable Legos to create some pretty complex feats of engineering.

“It became clear to me that besides the best intention of things like 3D printers to materialize things and help people bring ideas to life, it’s still really hard to animate technology and create good experiences. I believe more often than not, people work on technology for technology’s sake. To steer away from that, I started looking into arduinos, which have loads of practical utility, but are still geared towards tech savvy individuals and engineers. I wanted to bring a human centered approach to making things with technology, that feels familiar – not foreign – regardless of their technical competence or even age” says Horn. “I ended up creating something that doesn’t have any immediate purpose: explore first, create later. That much can’t be said for most other tools; you have to know what you’re making ahead of time.”

Indeed, there does seem to be a disparity between many of the toys out on the market and their more adult oriented Arduino and raspberry pi counterparts. Without suggesting that you have to dial back the fun to achieve a more educational product, much of what’s on shelves today appears to either inspire children to venture into STEAM-related fields without directly teaching them anything, or else teaching them rudimentary principles that their developing minds quickly outpace. That’s why the STEAM KIT actually offers lesson-plans that instructors can incorporate into their coursework. Plus, the fact that the kit pairs to an app means that through upgrading the software, SAM can continuously make its product smarter based on direct feedback from participating schools and teachers.

“STEAM education is becoming increasingly emphasized in schools as governments are waking up to the needs of computational thinking and students learning to coding. At the same time, teachers unfortunately receive very little training, and the problem is that sometimes you have teachers who want to buy and utilize technology in the classroom, but don’t have the means to use it (ie: very little time for training). We took the fact that teachers needed to get up to speed rapidly by working side by side with top education facilities in the Bay Area to create lessons that they could integrate in the class – programming is woven into math, science, and so forth” says Horn, on top of promoting the concept of learning through play.

Building palpable creations is largely what makes learning fun, especially in the context of complicated subjects. If you can add on a layer of creativity, since Horn says there’s multiple ways to reach the same conclusion with code, even better. Strip away the complexities and knowledgebase required to grasp the technical aspects of the technology, and now even children can learn to work with it. The cherry on top is the cross-disciplinary materials students engage with to learn computer science, science, math and art simultaneously. Now that’s STEAM education.

“Not only are the no wires, but there are no circuit boards… You turn it on and start creating. We’re leveling the playing field to empower kids, designers, startups or anyone else to build an Internet of Things device and never thought they could” Horn tells Microsoft. “No matter where we are in this process, our goal is still the same: to bring all sorts of thinkers and doers into… the conversation. We want [students] to express themselves in a creative, almost musical way, whether they’re building a skateboard that records and posts tricks to social media or a smart system that monitors your cat and feeds it when its hungry.”

STEAM KIT

With the inclusion of the arts in STEM education to form a more well-rounded ‘STEAM’ (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum, the initiative to integrate new areas of study such as robotics or computer science has itself picked up steam in the last couple of years. Endeavoring to teach children to be creators rather than just consumers by updating the scholastic structure to reflect our increasingly technical world, the modern classroom has embraced screens, keyboards and even smart toys to prepare students for life post-graduation. From physical products like Lego Mindstorms, to cross-platforms digital experiences like Roblox to Osmo’s marriage of the real and virtual worlds with Pizza Co., the spiked demand for STEAM-driven educational games is catalyzing innovation in the learning space and has proven that when used intelligently, technology isn’t merely a distraction but rather a potent and relevant tool for teaching.

+children
+coding
+Design
+Education
+Education
+gaming
+Gaming & Play
+Innovation
+IoT
+IoT
+Lego
+Microsoft
+startup
+Steam
+technology
+USA
+work

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