Monday, April 17, 2017

Why Every School Needs A Makerspace

Image: Remake Learning
Thinking, like human nature, is diverse - abstract, practical, linear, holistic, critical, generative, convergent, divergent, rational, lateral, analytical, logical emotional, analytical and a whole lot more. We have our preferred or comfortable ways of thinking but blend our thinking in different ways according to context - sometimes its better to focus hard on something and break it down into smaller more manageable bits while other times its better to zoom out, look for connections and analogies or let your mind wander.

Learning, like human nature, is diverse - conditioned, programmed, constructed, individual, social, private, open and a whole lot more. We have our preferred or comfortable ways of learning but blend our learning according to context - sometimes its better to read something while other times its better to have a conversation, watch someone do something or try doing something ourselves.



“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open” ~ Frank Zappa

Like a balanced diet, thinking and learning diversity is good for mental health and wellbeing - it helps prevent narrowing of the mind and "getting stuck in a rut" - it provides a toolkit and range of responses and options for different circumstances and different types of problem. We need different blends of thinking and learning for different types of problem and in different situations. Using the wrong blend of thinking or learning could be disastrous - using pure emotion when numbers need to be crunched is as bad as using only rational analysis in social interactions.

Different points of view
Thinking and learning diversity enriches us all both individually and collectively. The "cross fertilisation" opportunities in a diverse thinking and learning polyculture are a rich source for for creativity and innovation - a combination can achieve more than the sum of the individual parts alone.


“We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” ~ Tim Berners-Lee

Thinking and learning diversity plays an important role in being able to adapt to changing circumstances - having a range of skills, abilities and ways of thinking and learning is essential when it comes to uncertainty, the unknown .... and preparing for the future.

"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. ~ Abraham Maslow (The Psychology of Science)

"Most existing education systems at all levels provide highly siloed training and continue a number of 20th century practices that are hindering progress" 
The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 

In meeting the challenge of educating large numbers of people education systems have tended to look for mass effects through the economies of scale possible through specialisation, standardisation and development of a monoculture of explicit knowledge that can be more easily codified, packaged, delivered, consumed, tested and graded.

“using the language of knowledge is no proof that they possess it." ~ Aristotle

The real world is diverse and does not fit straightforwardly into a standard education framework - perhaps its time to start accommodating real world thinking in the education system - not only can it motivate improving results but also better prepare our young people to face new challenges in the future. 

"Learning is experience. Everything else is just information." – Albert Einstein

What we consider as learning has in many ways become narrowed to remembering explicit content ...  most often conditioned by working through a program, package or scheme of work and by listening to a teacher. However, our learning, like human nature, is very diverse - our learning is also constructed through practical experience and experiment.

People are more than just minds to be filled or programmed in front of a screen - people have bodies, feelings and emotions and live in a real world. When people try to do things and fail or succeed, emotions are triggered, and these have a significant effect on how we learn.

If you think about the things you remember best they are probably the things in which you have been actively engaged in some way. Seymour Papert’s research convinced him that children (and for that matter adults) learn more efficiently if they could see a tangible result and that people are motivated and inspired to learn when they are using that learning to make something they care about.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that Active Learning Leads to Higher Grades and Fewer Failing Students 

“students learn more, which means we’re doing our job better. They get higher grades and fail less"

There is also a strong ethical component to explore active learning.

"There is a growing body of evidence showing that active learning differentially benefits students of color and/or students from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or women in male-dominated fields"

“The impact of these data should be like the Surgeon General’s report on “Smoking and Health” in 1964–they should put to rest any debate about whether active learning is more effective than lecturing.”


Repeated findings underscored an irony. Many of the world’s great scientists had been teaching with scant evidence to support their methods, something they’d never tolerate in their research.It’s just not how the brain learns, It does not learn to do these things by watching someone write on a chalkboard or by listening to them talk.

Using the traditional hour-long lecture to teach science, is like relying on medieval medicine while boxes of antibiotics abound. “It’s the pedagogical equivalent of bloodletting”

If you experience the condition of the problem, you’ll remember the answer much better. Lectures have it backwards. They basically give you the answer, then you practice it."

Education behind glass
For decades education has been making education increasingly two dimensional by flattening it in a managed learning environment behind the glass wall of the computer screen. For decades the PC has been the only game in town for education technology and variations of a screen have come to come to dominate our thinking about how we use technology in education. Today, a rich diversity of new technologies is emerging signalling the end of the screenage as we know it. 

Papert’s vision was that children should be programming the computer rather than being programmed by it - he saw computers and technology as "objects to think with rather than dispensers of information" and that "It’s not what you know about the computer that’s important, but your ability to do things with it." Papert also wrote about 

"the necessity for the educator to be an anthropologist. Educational innovators must be aware than in order to be successful they must be sensitive to what is happening in surrounding culture and use dynamic cultural trends as a medium to carry their educational interventions."

The PC era is already past and the end of the "screenage" is coming. For decades schools and colleges have built computer labs and put education in a managed learning environment behind glass but today they need to broaden their thinking to accommodate the wide range of emerging new technologies becoming available in the real world and invest in the economies of scope of makerspaces to blend a diversity of thinking and learning to make learning tangible - not only motivate better results but to prepare and give young people more options to face new challenges in the future. 

Image: InspireNshare Pop Up Thinglab 19 Make:Shift:Do 3D Printing

"The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report estimates that "65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist” and that even “old” jobs will look radically different in workplaces transformed by technology."

We cannot simply educate future generations for a life behind glass and for the jobs of the past, today or tomorrow but must educate future generations to be able to think, do, adapt and learn for a life in an unknown and uncertain future. The essential, crucial skill is the ability to think and learn. 

To add another dimension to education and to prepare for the future step away from the computer and the glass and into the makerspace.

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InspireNshare focus on developing the value of people in an increasingly automated future and specialise in creative, holistic & cultural approaches with technology, learning, business and life - to find out more visit http://inspirenshare.com





Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Learning: Juice, Blend, Fission Or Fusion


"We are made of star stuff"
Image NASA:  Taken Under the "Wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud  

Most of the education system is a legacy of fission ... the defining technology and mindset of the 20th century - a mindset of rational analytical, reductionism that splits things into smaller manageable bits that can be more easily conquered and measured. Education fission splits learning into many separate (even conflicting) parts that rarely mix and focuses on ever deeper specialisation and elitism. Educational fission is good for management and measurement but creates a set filter bubbles with all the conditions for memetic "in-breading" that reinforces the status quo and acts against innovation and change.

The education system has locked in systems thinking as the dominant thought process which sees education itself as a finite system of interconnected parts. At every turn of the gears the chain guards of the system keep education processes on track ... timetables and exams lock in subject boundaries and levels while league table results and inspection reinforce the self fulfilling prophecies of system good practice.

Education fission separates the practical from the academic and focuses on forms of explicit knowledge which can be easily codified, delivered, consumed, tested and graded ... helping the system to reinforce itself.

Exponential and combinatorial developments in information and communication technologies present completely different social challenges to those presented by the industrial and engineering technologies of the 20th century. 21st century technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics excel at the easily measurable and testable rational analytical reductionist fission material we find in the formal education system. 21st century technologies are set to displace the very skills taught and learned in our 20th century education system! 

Many recognise the problems of fission - it requires huge systems support, creates toxic by-products for future generations and can be weaponised. 
Fission
Fission is the act of cleaving or splitting into parts.

Fission Learning
Fission learning is the dominant method of learning in most education systems today. Influenced by rational analytical reductionism and logical positivism it deliberately breaks learning into separate elements, creates learner and subject boundaries and levels and focuses on measurement and verification.

Many recognise fission has broken education and attempt to put it back together again by juicing and blending learning.

Juicing
Juicing gives you fruit and vegetable liquid and nutrients without fibre - your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. The "nutrient express" of juicing makes nutrients readily available in large quantities - its a lot easier than eating fruit and vegetables. However, without fibre nutrient juice is absorbed into your blood stream quickly and if you are only juicing fruits, this would cause a rapid spike in blood sugar and unstable blood sugar levels can lead to mood swings, energy loss and memory problems. Fibre is also filling and without fibre in the juice, some people tend to get hungry again quickly.

Juiced Learning
Juiced learning attempts to make learning quicker, easier, more accessible and more digestible. Juiced learning removes the "fibre" of learning - things like failure, discovery, experiment, serendipity and serves you with a quick dose "nutrients" or facts ready for the job or passing exams. Juiced learning can be found in the Clockwork Orange drip feed juice of managed learning environments and computer based instruction where content is delivered anytime, anyplace for testing, measurement and verification. Juiced learning can be found in exam crams, model papers, bitesized and learning nuggets and the like. Juiced learning fits well with the fission learning system - makes it more digestible and gives a quick fix for results.

Blending
Blending creates a smoothie drink with both nutrients and fibre of the whole fruit or vegetable. Your digestive system has to do more work to absorb the nutrients in a smoothie than a juice but blending breaks down the fibre making it is easier to digest than eating while still filling and creating a slow, even release of nutrients into the blood stream that avoids blood sugar spikes. 
Blended Learning
Blended learning attempts to put learning back together again by mixing the different elements together and some of the blends keep the "fibre" of learning - the failure, discovery, experiment and serendipity. There are many elements that can be put in the blender - subjects, levels, techniques, technologies, locations, assessments, thinking styles etc. There are many types of learning blend but mixes with technology dominate although many seem no more than a spoonful of technology sugar to help the medicine go down. The blends I like to try are those that blend the boundaries between levels, subjects, techniques and technology  - InspireNshare Thinglab for example blends levels, learners, techniques, locations and technology with tangible learning. Thinglab 1 blended levels, subjects techniques and technology - we had students teaching teachers and other students, we had students researching and experimenting with technologies across subjects ... using 3D printing and augmented reality in sport, music and science for example.

Blended learning is a useful addition to the fission learning system - while it doesn't quite put learning back together again it smoothies over the cracks, puts some fibre back into learning and makes it more digestible.


Fusion
Fusion or synthesis is the process of combining two or more distinct entities into a new wholeFusion requires energy or catalysis to get started but once fusion starts energy is given back and new things are made. We all come from fusion and depend on it -  stars like our sun are fusion reactors - giving off light, heat and the elements which we and our planet are made of - we are made of stardust a new study proves it.

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” ~ Carl Sagan

Fusion Learning
Fusion learning doesn't just mix elements of learning together but fuses them into a new integrated whole ... or rather sees learning holistically from the start. There are so many definitions of learning but I take it as being a process that leads to change and transformation. Like fusion, I see learning creating something new  ... connecting skills, ways of thinking, ideas and experiences into something new for a person and most of all being able to inspire and share that learning with others and connecting learning to the real world.
The swirling Orion Nebula where stars are born Image NASA: The Orion Nebula

From the standard model of education fusion looks like nothing but a mess .. something that needs the analysis of fission to bring structure and order to. The standard model of education teaches us how to analyse, divide and break things down. The fusion model of learning is holistic and emergent and teaches us how to synthesise, create and bring things together - it brings together different learners, techniques, technologies, subjects, ideas and ways of thinking to find new perspectives, ways of doing things and connects learning to the real world. Most of all fusion learning is about learning, transforming knowledge into general transferable skills that can be applied and adapted in different contexts life-wide and life-long - essential given the fast rate of change and uncertainty predicted for the future.

Like nuclear fusion fusion learning requires a lot of energy to get going but it is possible to get learning fusion going under the right conditions - such as those proposed by SITRA’s New Education Forum for Finland. In Finland they have significantly reduced testing, broken down subject boundaries and connected teaching and learning to topics and activities in the real world.

"education and learning is not seen as something that is adapting to the changes around us. Learning can be an active force driving the change".

“We insist that education must not settle for adapting to change, but also act as a driver. To raise brave, compassionate citizens capable of independent thought and bearing the responsibility for themselves and for others; curious people, capable of finding things out for themselves and assessing the reliability of whatever information they come across. People with a tolerance of uncertainty, the courage to implement their ideas in practice and even break a few rules, if necessary.”

Makerspaces with project based learning are excellent catalysts for fusion learning - places where where subjects, learners, levels, techniques, technologies, the academic and the practical combine with tangible learning to make things. 

Learning Diversity

"Too much of a good thing is bad for you" 
"A little of what you fancy does you good"

Human nature tends to like binary choices and the education system seems to amplify this but a mixed diet of choice and diversity is more healthy, sustainable and fertile for adaptation and evolution. 

Diversity and interconnection are essential elements in evolution and innovation. To evolve, innovate and thrive in the 21st century education needs to shift from closed, disconnected and standardised practice to open, connected and diverse practice and include a diversity of learning methods. Education needs to not only add juice and blend to its fission but also embrace fusion to catalyse innovation, creativity, change, adaptation and evolution for a sustainable future for everyone.

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InspireNshare focus on developing the value of people in an increasingly automated future and specialise in creative, holistic & cultural approaches with technology, learning, business and life - to find out more visit http://inspirenshare.com









Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tangible Learning



"If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land, no frame of mind is ever going to help you." ~ Bruce Lee

We all learn in different ways and some things are best learned one way rather than another but for most things we learn best by being involved and doing something ...  you can only learn so much from listening, reading and watching.

If you think about the things you remember best they are probably the things in which you have been actively engaged in some way. Seymour Papert’s research convinced him that children (and for that matter adults) learn more efficiently if they could see a tangible result and that people are motivated and inspired to learn when they are using that learning to make something they care about.

People are more than just minds to be filled or programmed in front of a screen - people have bodies, feelings and emotions and live in a real world. When people try to do things and fail or succeed, emotions are triggered, and these have a significant effect on how we learn.


Learning is more than remembering content and know-what facts which are easily codified, transmitted and tested by the education system - learning is also about the "know-how" of doing things, making things and getting stuff done.

Tangible learning is at the very core of one of our greatest achievements - science. "The most important part of the scientific method is the experiment" - without observation and experiment in the real world science could simply be fiction.

Back in 1946 Edgar Dale developed the "Cone of Experience" as "a visual metaphor" to summarise his classification system for varied types of mediated learning experience - it's a useful intuitive and descriptive classification concept "not to be taken too seriously". Attaching numbers without tangible observation and experiment the "Cone of Experience" has been turned into the "Cone of Learning" and the Learning Pyramid" to satisfy those who are driven by data. science fiction. Without tangible observation and experiment in the real world education myths would never be debunked and exposed as the science fiction that many of them are.

Education is driven hard by political, business and management assumptions. There is a hard drive to technologise teaching and learning at all costs (and it is costly) without basis. Talk is cheap but its consequences can be costly. For example, there is an assumption that young people are more likely to read on some sort of screen and this has been used as the basis for education and library strategy and resource decisions. But young people do not have a uniform set of skills, and the contention that screens are preferred is not backed up by existing research or new research. Without tangible observation and experiment the idea that young people are more likely to read on some sort of screen is science fiction if not fantasy.


Repeated findings underscored an irony. Many of the world’s great scientists had been teaching with scant evidence to support their methods, something they’d never tolerate in their research.

If you experience the condition of the problem, you’ll remember the answer much better. Lectures have it backwards. They basically give you the answer, then you practice it.

It’s just not how the brain learns, It does not learn to do these things by watching someone write on a chalkboard or by listening to them talk.

It is really hard to believe the problem when you’ve been indoctrinated into a system, until you actually test it yourself.’

Using the traditional hour-long lecture to teach science, is like relying on medieval medicine while boxes of antibiotics abound. “It’s the pedagogical equivalent of bloodletting”

Tangible learning is also about tangible effects. A study the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that Active Learning Leads to Higher Grades and Fewer Failing Students

“The impact of these data should be like the Surgeon General’s report on “Smoking and Health” in 1964–they should put to rest any debate about whether active learning is more effective than lecturing.”

There is also a strong ethical component to explore active learning.

"There is a growing body of evidence showing that active learning differentially benefits students of color and/or students from disadvantaged backgrounds and/or women in male-dominated fields"

Tangible learning engages the whole person, not just the intellectual mind, it emphasises practical, active and activity learning and the value of doing and getting stuff done in the real world.



"Learning is experience. Everything else is just information." – Albert Einstein

InspireNshare are developing tangible learning experiences for education - to find out more visit http://inspirenshare.com



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tangible Programming


Exponential developments in digital technology have given us a trillion fold increase in computing performance over the last 60 years and brought about one of the most "interesting" times in technology I have known - a time of radical change in both the form and nature of what used to be called computers ... does anyone call a smartphone a computer?

Exponential developments in processing have given us powerful, big and expensive supercomputers like TaihuLight - the biggest, fastest, most powerful computer in the world in November 2016 with 10 million CPU cores and capable of 93 petaflops. But exponential development continues ... in 2018 IBM plan to more than double the power of TaihuLight with a new supercomputer called "Summit" said to be able to run at 200 Petaflops!

Exponential developments in processing have given us cheap and small computing in abundance. In 1969 the Apollo guidance computer took astronauts to the moon and back with just 2k of memory - a decade later you could buy a personal computer with 8 times the memory of the Apollo guidance computer. I first programmed a computer in 1972 - an ICL 2900 mainframe with 2Mb RAM that filled a room and cost £15m in today's money -  In 2016 you could get hundreds of times more power given away free on the cover of a magazine when the Raspberry Pi magazine MagPi gave away the PI Zero on its coverIn 1996 the Hitachi SR2201/1024 supercomputer ran at 220.4 Gflops and was the fastest computer in the world ... today you can put this in your pocket with a Smartphone like the Samsung S7 which runs at 265Gflops and does a whole lot more besides.

Computers have got bigger, smaller, changed form and become embedded in things. Computers once filled rooms then our desks and laps - now we put them in pockets, wear them and interact with them as objects around us - video recorders, cameras, heating systems, washing machines and ovens for example. 

Its not just computer hardware that is changing in nature and form - software, programming and the way we interact with computers is also changing radically. When I started using computers in the 1970s all we could do was type in text commands and get text replies back - the Command User Interface (CUI) was all we had. I remember the excitement of the mid 1980s when computers started showing us graphics and we could interact with those graphics - the Graphical User Interface (GUI) revolutionised the way we interacted with computers - at last with computers What You See Is What You get (WYSIWYG). Computers turned into WIMPs (Windows Icons Menus Pointers) and stayed that way ever since .... but things are changing.


"Soon We Won’t Program Computers. We’ll Train Them Like Dogs."

Exponential changes in hardware and software capability are bringing about a new revolution in how we interact with computers. We will no longer have to treat computers as WIMPs - they are coming out into our world and we will be able to interact and program the computers around us in more natural and diverse ways. Complex technologies are being shrunk and embedded into devices so that we will be able to gesture, look and talk to our computers - the CUI is coming back but this time as a Conversational User Interface. Deep Learning Will Radically Change the Ways We Interact with Technology and Soon We Won’t Program Computers. We’ll Train Them Like Dogs.
Computers and computing are coming out into our world as objects that we can interact with directly in many different ways - its time to start thinking differently about computers. Its time to think less about computing and more about computational thinking. It's time to think less about coding and more about learning to program and programming to learn. 

"Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced" 
~ John Keats

Although we spend increasing amounts of time learning through computer screens people learn best when they are active and doing things hands on and in the real world. Seymour Papert’s research convinced him that children learned more efficiently if they could see a tangible result and saw computers as "objects to think with rather than dispensers of information". Atomic physics is pretty abstract but even an atomic physicist makes the case for active learning and talking about physicists .... Albert Einstein once said that "Learning is experience. Everything else is just information". 

Tangible programming is a response to radical changes in the nature and form of computers and the way we interact with them. Computers and the way we program them will continue as they are today but will also become more pervasive in the world around us embedded in connected things and smart objects. Tangible programming recognises that there is more to programming a computer than punching code into a keyboard and seeing the results on a screen. Tangible programming recognises that we can program a computer to do tangible things and that we can program a computer in tangible ways - using voice, gestures, movements and programming computers as tangible smart or connected objects.  

Tangible programming is a response to the way people learn best with immediate and tangible results of play, discovery, experimenting, making, doing and through tangible experience. Tangible programming recognises that one of the best ways to learn is to teach and in programming we are essentially teaching a computer to do something. 

Tangible programming is a preparation for the future. We are at the beginning of the information age - an information revolution or as some people call it (oxymoronically) - The Fourth Industrial Revolution. There is a great deal of uncertainty and change ahead and much of this change could be fast and radical as exponential developments in digital technology permeate our world and transform it.

"We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before." ~ World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report estimates that "65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist” and that even “old” jobs will look radically different in workplaces transformed by technology.

We cannot simply educate future generations for the jobs of today or tomorrow but must educate future generations to be able to think, adapt and to learn and work in the future. The essential, crucial skill is the ability to think and learn. Tangible programming is not about learning to code for the jobs of today or tomorrow but about learning to program and using programming as a way of learning

"The child programs the computer. And in teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think."Seymour Papert

Thinking is good and programming encourages lots of thinking - most notably computational thinking but also lateral thinking, creative thinking, design thinking, rational thinking etc. Programming is about problem solving, communication, creativity and invention - it helps people develop a useful life-wide and life-lifelong way of thinking and a set of practical transferable skills that can help them adapt to changes in their lives and the future. 



In the uncertain future of the information age and pervasive computing don't panic - learn to program as a way of learning.

InspireNshare develop the value of people in an increasingly automated future and use computers as evocative objects to think with and tangible programming as a way of learning.


Find out more about inspireNshare at inspireNshare.com










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Saturday, March 4, 2017

FAB Enlightenment?

iMakr STARTT 3D printing for under £100

"Every home will have a 3D printer" 

Was the bold claim in 2009 when the Stratsys patent on FDM expired and triggered a roller coaster Hype Cycle for 3D printing. The cost of 3D printing plummeted as 3D printing went Open Source and DIY with the Reprap and kits based on it like the Makerbot.

 "3D printers would become as common as microwaves" 

Was the claim from Makerbot but ... Microwaves are considerably cheaper than 3D printers and not many people can build a Microwave.
3D printing grew and became accessible but only among the more technical maker minded. The starting gun trigger was pulled and 3D printing dived into a niche ecosystem - a big fish in a small pond and it didn't cross over into any sort of mainstream.  

If anyone can manufacture cheap and easy for the large pond it's the Chinese and manufacturers such as Flashforge took existing ideas and drove the cost of 3D printing well under £1,000 - culminating in the wonderful Flashforge finder - a fun little printer at just under £400 in 2015.

But still 3D printing didn't live up to the early hype.

A big fish in a small pond was looking more like a damp squib - Makerbot was bought by Stratsys in 2013 and in 2016 MakerBot laid off 30% of its staff narrowed its focus on to education and the enterprise 

Enterprise 3D printing remained solid and use in education continued to grow but "a 3D printer in every home" was looking like a pipe dream but some still had this dream and continued.


XYZ Printing Nano 
Its been down to XYZ printing to almost single handedly try to cross 3D printing into the mainstream with the da Vinci miniMaker ($249) aimed at schools and the da Vinci Nano ($230) aimed at home use. 

And now 



iMakr STARTT 3D printing for under £100

The problems with 3D printing are that it is so slow to make anything and quite techie to do so but getting under £100 will put it into the reach of those that want to try and from a trusted supplier with a good reputation. The STARTT is aimed at complete novices, the curious and technology enthusiasts who love to see how things work. 

iMakr got the STARTT under £100 by passing assembly costs to the consumer - this is a good match for the curious and technology enthusiasts who love to see how things work but may not be such a good match for complete novices but with the price under £100 at least the financial risk for trying 3D printing is much smaller. 

Getting under £100 is a magic psychological price point that could put this on the radar of a lot of people and make the STARTT a small fish in a much bigger pond and help 3D printing get out of the trough of disillusionment and on the slope of enlightenment.

I can't help comparing the development of 3D printing with 2D printing. In a sense these low cost FDM 3D printers remind me of low cost impact dot matrix printers of the 1980s - they became cheap and useable - made printing and even a form of desktop publishing available to people but were limited. Breaking the £100 barrier marks a special point in the evolution of a long established 3D printing technology - what I am waiting for now is a revolution - the 3D equivalent of the ink jet printer - something that will not only cheap but fast and flexible as well. 

How long will it be before we see a 3D equivalent of the 2D inkjet printer for under £100?

More information about the STARTT
STARTT 3D Printer on the iMakr store

To find out more about inspireNshare visit http://inspireNshare.com



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 24: MAKE:VR Curiosity, Children and Science





Pop Up Thinglab 24 was a children's virtual reality workshop and travel agency in Fullwell Cross Library. It was an opportunity for children to learn about and experience virtual reality with a hands on heads on introduction covering both theory and practice and an opportunity to see themselves in virtual reality and make and take away their own virtual reality viewers.

The workshop started "heads on" where we covered the development of virtual reality, a simple technical explanation of how it works and the current state of virtual reality with a description of products, platforms, prices and capabilities. The second part of the workshop was "hands on" where we made Google Cardboard virtual reality viewers and used them to take virtual reality trips.  We finished our hands on session by putting ourselves in the picture by taking and viewing virtual reality selfies - something that is great fun and really helps people understand virtual reality through the direct experience of making it.

During the "heads on" theory part of the workshop we talked about technology, science and explanations. We started with NASA's explanation of virtual reality 

"Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence."

No one really understands the NASA explanation and contrasted it with a child's explanation from Pop Up Thinglab 14

"Virtual reality projects into your eyes as if you are there”  

Which everyone seems to understand.

We talked about how much harder it is to make an easy explanation of something and I quoted Albert Einstein who once said ...

"If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

Its amazing that even six year olds have heard of Albert Einstein and that he was a scientist.

Children are natural scientists - curiosity bootstraps their learning through play, exploration and experimentation. Children learn how to walk and talk before they can read an instruction manual - babies learn to walk through curiosity and trial and error exploration and experimentation.

Einstein knew all about the power of curiosity, play and experimentation.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”
and
“Play is the highest form of research” 

The marine biologist and explorer Sylvia Earle once said "The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask question and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity."
One of the child scientists at Pop Up Thinglab 24 
Children Play Like Scientists Work - they try things out, experiment, test things, break things and inquire - just as if they are doing scientific research. Failure is not an option .... literally ... "that didn't work ... lets try this instead" its not thought about in the adult way - its just something that happens - its all part of the fun - its an essential ingredient of play and learning.
A Curious Mind Knows No Limits - to learn just start playing  .. its only natural - we just have to create the conditions.

It was interesting to see the children think about and identify their senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell and we had an interesting conversation about how virtual reality gets more real when you add more senses and get more "immersed". We talked about Morton Heilig's Sensorama "Experience Theatre" of the 1960s which added smell, wind and motion to your virtual reality experience. I mentioned the newly announced Koei Tecmo Wave VR Sense "Arcade cabinet that brings wind, smell and bugs to VR" to make your experience of VR even more realistic.

I spoke about my experiences with virtual reality in the 1990s with Virtuality's arcade games - how amazing they seemed at the time but like most things in the history of virtual reality - ahead of its time and the ability of the technology to deliver. We talked about hype, expectation and the ability of technology and although it was a children's session I showed them the Gartner Hype Cycle and even children could understand this.

We spoke about current technology trends and had a conversation about robots and artificial intelligence. It's amazing that children know about artificial intelligence and even more fascinating to hear them talk about it - about Google's Deepmind and how it learned to beat the world's best Go players for example. The children had several goes at explaining artificial intelligence but the best one I think was:

"Artificial intelligence is about machines that think"

We spoke about how the current rise in virtual reality was kickstarted (literally) in 2012 by a teenager with fresh ideas messing around with mobile phone displays, electronics and software in his garage - many of the children of course knew who and what I was talking about ..... Palmer Lucky and Oculus Rift. I spoke about the Google science fair for 13- to 18-year-old students and about how so many amazing ideas come from the new perspectives of young people or as Walt Disney put it “Our greatest national resource is the minds of our children”

However, "downsizing" virtual reality didn't stop with Palmer Lucky and Oculus Rift ... we went on to talk about how two engineers at Google came up with the idea to use mobile phones with virtual reality viewers made out of cardboard - bringing the cost of accessing virtual reality to almost nothing!

Making Cardboard virtual reality viewers

The story of Google Cardboard led into our hands on practical session where the children made their own virtual reality viewers from cardboard VR kits and used their phones to watch our curated content on Youtube - roller coaster rides are always popular with adults and children but this group of child scientists also enjoyed Space Experience  Journey To The Edge Of Space and a trip to Mars for a view from NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover at Namib Dune (360 view)

Making your own is a great way to appreciate and understand something and making our own virtual reality viewers helped make the experience of virtual reality personal. However, we didn't stop at just viewing virtual reality ... we put ourselves into virtual reality ..... using a 360 camera to record ourselves and then view ourselves in virtual reality.

With a 360 camera everything is in shot ....all around, above and below ... there is no hiding! While adults can take sometime to adjust to this children seem to just take it in their stride having fun striking poses all around the camera. The process of making 360 degree imagery really helps people understand virtual reality and then seeing yourself in a virtual reality selfie is always fascinating and the personal experience really brings it home what virtual reality is better than any explanation.


For more images of Pop Up Thinglab 23 visit: Pop Up Thinglab 24 (Flickr album)

To find out more about inspireNshare Thinglab visit http://inspirenshare.com/thinglab

To find out more about inspireNshare visit http://inspireNshare.com

To find out more about virtual reality visit http://inspireNshare.com/vr