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Teaching Kids to Code

A few years ago we came upon an impressive London start-up named Technology Will Save Us making DIY toy kits that kids could build and code themselves. In an age when kids born in the last decade often know how to scroll an iPhone before they take their first step, it’s refreshing to meet an educator and entrepreneur who is as positive about the generations to come as co-founder Bethany Koby. In her vision of the future, the tech-savvy adults of tomorrow will be in control of their devices, knowing how to use computers as true tools for their own imaginations and creativity. We were more than a little intrigued to learn more, so we interviewed Koby on what inspired her and her husband, Daniel Hirschmann, to found their company, and how we as parents can get involved in making computers and technology more accessible and educational for our own kids.

A Q&A with Bethany Koby

Q

What was your initial inspiration?

A

We started Technology Will Save Us in response to a couple of different things. We found a laptop in our garbage bin and thought it was crazy that someone would throw a working piece of technology away. It really highlighted the role that tech has in our everyday lives and our relationship with it. We don’t really understand it, yet it pervades everything. My co-founder Daniel and I were teaching at the time and were keenly aware of how long it takes for education to catch up with the pace of technology. The maker movement was growing and the world of creative tech tools was on the rise, so we felt there was a need for a business that would empower the creator generation and parents while inspiring kids to make and be productive with tech in a fun and hands-on way. We also had a baby and he was basically born with an iPad.

We started out as a workshop company but realized that by creating products or kits that give parents and kids the power, the knowledge, and most importantly the confidence to be able to do it themselves, at home around the kitchen table is equally, if not more, empowering.

We created the design-led company in 2012. It has since sparked the imagination of children in over 97 countries. We work closely with children to design our kits, engaging in large-scale research projects before beginning design and manufacture.

Q

Making and playing are a major part of what your kits encourage kids to do—why are they central to your company’s philosophy?

A

We believe playing and making are the best ways for children to learn about the world and acquire new skills. We are creating a new category of toys to inspire kids to find their own creativity and passion for technology in order to ensure they have awesome futures.

Q

As your company’s name implies, you’re hopeful for the future. What lies ahead for a generation of kids who will hopefully know how to make and play with technology?

A

According to Cathy Davidson, a scholar of learning technology, 65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet. We think kids will invent future jobs based on playing with Minecraft, making thirsty plant detectors in their kitchens, and designing their own games controlled by their BBC micro:bits.

This is why Tech Will Save Us is focusing on sparking the creative imagination of young people using hands-on technology. All in all, we believe diverse, creative, and empowered kids and families will save us and technology will be at the heart of how they do this!

Q

Do you worry about how much time kids in general spend on the iPad and at the computer?

A

Being creative with tech is so much more than screens. It’s not just how much time you spend on the iPad or computer, it’s how you use it to learn and creatively solve problems. As a parent, I wanted more for my son and ways to inspire him to see what he is capable of with technology. We want to empower parents and eliminate the fear of explaining technology to children and help them work together to make a more creative and less consumptive relationship to technology.

Q

Are there a few apps you’d recommend for kids that enable creativity and learning?

A

Anything by Tinybop, which makes educational apps designed for curious kids to explore big ideas. Also, Toca Boca, who make award-winning apps for kids that encourage creativity without in-app purchases or third-party ads.

Q

Technology Will Save Us just participated in a nationwide program in the UK where 1 million children were given the BBC micro:bit—which your team designed—to learn coding at school. Why do you think coding is an essential skill kids should be learning?

A

The BBC, and all the partners (including us) all recognized that a hands-on learning experience could help children grasp the new (UK-wide) Computing Curriculum in ways that other software and traditional classroom learning couldn’t. The BBC micro:bit helps young people develop an intuitive understanding of physical concepts in technology and computing, which helps develop complex thinking, analytical and problem-solving strategies.

Q

You come from a design background and from the look of your products, design plays a major part. What are your guidelines when it comes to designing tech for kids?

A

Children are at the heart of everything we do, we want all our products to reflect that (both digital and physical). That’s why we test our products with kids so much, especially our new kit, the Mover Kit. We tested the prototype with over 300 kids. We learned that kids love technology that is portable, reactive, and open-ended. This allows them to be engaged and active while having fun. We used the feedback from kids to define the form factor of the Mover Kit.

Q

What are some simple ways we as parents can help create a more playful attitude toward technology at home?

A

Some children are lucky enough to have engineer, programmer, or technical parents. Some are lucky enough to go to a code club or after school program where they get to make things with tech, and even fewer of them are doing this in school. And yet again, according to the NESTA, over eight million young people are estimated to have an interest in trying ‘digital making,’ but only 130,000 such learning opportunities were available in 2014.

We don’t know what every young person is going to become passionate about. But we believe that if parents and kids can have more opportunities to make, explore, and have fun with technology, these creative experiences will give them the confidence to become lifelong learners and invent their future. This could be something as big as making your very own portable gaming console with our Gamer kit or something as easy as making your own electro dough that can light up LEDs and make buzzers buzz like our Electro Dough Kit.

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