Archives for posts with tag: kids

Last week I finished an online digital painting class at taught by the legendary Bobby Chiu. To show you how effective the class was, I learned how to turn this:

Into this:

And then into this!

All from the comfort of my home and time schedule using only Photoshop and a digital tablet.

I’m not a professional illustrator (yet), but I feel like I learned some amazing skills from a world expert on the subject and I felt like a kid having fun. So, I wondered “Could kids benefit from online schooling?”

So I thought of some benefits and drawbacks of online schooling compared to traditional schools:


(The online schools I include above do not target children per se, but I don’t see why their models couldn’t be adapted for children.)


  • Schools are not just about knowledge transfer, they ‘re also about making friends and getting exposed to the real world away from home.
  • It’s hard to enforce the “rules” when the teacher is not physically around.

As far as “enforcing rules”, a “virtual teacher” technology can easily be applied to record scores and progress as if the teacher was around (with deadlines, online testing etc.). So the most serious drawback of online schooling is the lack of the ability to socialize. Even though there are options that mimic social interaction online a la Facebook (, unless kids leave home and meet other kids in person, they will miss out on a big part of life lessons if we replace schools with online learning.

So how about turning schools into “social activity centers” to get kids to play and interact together while they get schooled online? For the first time in history, we could give kids the opportunity (especially in developing countries) to get quality education from anywhere anytime at the fraction of the cost of traditional schools.

What do you think?

The Letter R and the Number 4 bumped into each other in front of the same box in a crossword puzzle.

The Letter R wanted to get into the box.

But the Number 4 would only let the correct letter into the box.

“Arr! I’m the letter R and I’m the rowdiest letter of all. This box is super-duper perfect for me. I’m jumping right in!”

But the Number 4 was not willing to let things get out of order.

“I’m the Number 4 and I’m guarding this box, because this box is the fourth box. Only if you are the fourth letter in the word I will let you in.”

“Well… the word is ‘FOUR’ and I’m the Letter R, so spell ‘FOUR’ and see if I’m at the right box.”

“I’m… I’m… I’m… a Number. I can’t spell.”

“How sad… Now, can you move aside so I can get into the box?”

But the Number 4 did not move.

The Number 4 did not let things get out of order.

“If you spell ‘FOUR’ then you ‘ll see if you are the fourth letter.”

“Only then I will let you in.”

“I’m a Letter. I don’t do counting.”

“And I’m a Number. I can count but I can’t spell.”

“Arrr! If you knew how to spell ‘FOUR’, then we wouldn’t be sitting here forever!”

“Well, I like sitting here. I like counting over and over. It’s quite soothing…”

“Arr! Arr! Arr!” yelled the Letter R in frustration.

And suddenly…

The Number 4 had an idea.

“How about you spell ‘FOUR’ and I count at the same time?”

“I ‘ll stop counting when you say ‘R’.”

So the Letter R said, “OK. Let’s start.”









“Arrr! So I am the fourth letter in the word ‘FOUR’ after all!”

“I believe this is correct,” said the Number 4.

“Arrr! Arrr! The box is mine!” said the Letter R and jumped inside the box.

“This is the greatest box ever.”
“Too bad you’ll never have a box of your own, Number 4.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“How about you look OUTSIDE the box?”

“That’s good.”

“A bit more…”

“Very good”
“Just a tiny bit more…”


The story of the Dragon’s Treasure Makeover aims to teach both a problem-solving skill and a technical skill.

First, the problem-solving skill is “try to understand the nature of a problem before you attempt a solution”. Imagine your printer is not working and you say “It worked fine yesterday. What happened? It broke. I’ll call support,” when in reality someone by mistake pulled the printer’s plug.   In the story, all three wizards use the Spellopedia Magica, but only Thinkalot picks a useful spell out of the book. That’s because he asked questions in order to understand the true nature of the Dragon’s problem. Understanding the nature of a problem is most of the time harder than coming up with a solution. It’s a skill that takes time to acquire, but it’s invaluable. If your children are stuck on a problem you can teach them by saying:

“Understand the problem and you ‘re more than half way towards the solution.”

Second, the technical skill is “if you organize things based on an identifier then it’s faster to search through them”. In this information-loaded age, information management is a great skill to acquire, so this story will provide a good discussion framework for you and your children on this topic.

I’d be interested to hear your opinion or reactions of your children on these topics.

Here are some comprehension questions you might want to ask:

1. If you were a Dragon which wizard would you hire and why?
(Thinkalot because he would try to understand my problem before he cast a spell.)

2. If you were the Dragon how would you change your ad in the Magic Network to make more clear what your problem was?
(“looking for wizard to help with search of treasure. I would like to be able to find any item in my treasure in about one day. I don’t want to lose any of my treasure” etc. The goal is to write a more specific ad.)

3. Thinkalot’s solution splits the treasure based on the first letter of each item. That splits the treasure in 26 piles. What if half of the treasure items started with “A”? It would take the Dragon half a month instead of a day to search for an item starting with “A”. So Thinkalot would be in trouble! Can you help Thinkalot find a better solution before the Dragon finds out?
(One way to solve this is to split the “A” pile into 26 piles using the second letter and so on. There are even better solutions if you are creative with your sorting criteria. I’d be interested to hear what your children can think of!)

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

There was a Dragon in a place far far away and over the thousands of years she had lived, she had gathered almost every known treasure. From gold coins to enchanted weapons, to magical stones and scrolls. The Dragon had it all.

Since she was such a big collector, other dragons often asked her to show them one-of-a-kind artifacts during dinner parties like the Diamond of the Druids or the Sword of the Seven Kings. The Dragon wanted to impress her friends, but her treasure was so vast that she had to search for months and months to find anything. Dragon dinner parties are known to last many days, but even the most patient dragon guests could not wait for a month.

The Dragon  tried to remember spells to help search her treasure faster, but all she knew were dangerous spells used in combat, not in someone’s own dragon lair.

At some point she had hired one thousand and twenty four goblins to do the searching for her. But they turned out to be very unreliable workers (plus they stole treasure). So she breathed fire on them and they ran away (they were not tasty enough to eat).


But the Dragon didn’t give up. She decided to post an advertisement on the Magic Network for a wizard. She wanted a wizard smart enough to figure out a way for her to search through her treasure faster.

The next day, a wizard walked into the Dragon’s lair.

“Mighty Dragon, I’m the Great Don Havakloo. I read your ad and I have a very simple solution to your problem. I will perform a My-Treasure-Where-I-Can-See-It Spell.”

“Spellbinding,” said the Dragon. “I’m curious to experience your spell, Don Havakloo.”

And so the Great Don Havakloo opened his copy of Spellopedia Magica, whirled his hands in the air and shouted:

“Treasure oh Treasure piled in far away piles
Move in front of the Great Dragon’s eyes!”

And all the treasure piled up next to the Dragon.

“Now your treasure is closer and you can save time searching for things,” said Don Havakloo.

“Don Havakloo, you really don’t have a clue. It takes me only thirty two steps to get to the treasure but a whole month to search through it. Do you think your spell deserves a reward?”

“Only a hundred gold coins, oh Mighty Dragon. I’m giving discounts today,” said Don Havakloo.

“I’ll give you a hotter reward,” said the Dragon and she blew a red hot flame and burned the wizard to a crisp.
The next day, another wizard walked into the Dragon’s lair.

“Mighty Dragon, I’m the Grand Gobblehalf. I read your ad and I have a very simple solution to your problem. I will perform a Split-My-Treasure-Like-Butter-And-Eat-It Spell.”

“It spells T-a-s-t-y,” said the Dragon. “I’m curious to experience your spell, Gobblehalf.”

And the Grand Gobblehalf opened his copy of Spellopedia Magica, struck his magic staff on the ground and shouted:

“Treasure Pile split in two. One half left and one half right.
And as for my share, I will only take the right.”

The treasure split in two mountains, one stayed near the Dragon, the other next to Gobblehalf.

“Mighty Dragon, now your treasure is half as it used to be, so it will take you half the time to look for things,” said Gobblehalf. “I will take your other half as payment, so no worries.”

“My dear Gobblehalf, since you want to gobble up half my treasure allow me to give you an extra reward,” said the Dragon and blew a red hot flame and burned the wizard to a crisp.
The Dragon was about to give up looking for a fix to her problem, when a young wizard walked into the Dragon’s lair.

The Dragon thought that wizard would be amusing to watch, but she was surprised when the young wizard said “Hi, my name is Thinkalot, what exactly is your problem Mighty Dragon?”

“It’s taking me a long time to find an item in my treasure.”

“Is it because your treasure is too far away?”

“No” said the Dragon. “I burned the last wizard who assumed that was my problem two days ago. It’s because I have too much of it.”

“And what if you gave up some of your treasure to make it smaller? Would that bother you?”

“Yes. I burned the last wizard who tried to take half of my treasure yesterday in fact.”

“And is your treasure organized, Mighty Dragon?”

“No, it’s all randomly piled up.”

The young wizard opened his copy of Spellopedia Magica and searched for the right spell. After a few minutes he said “I think what would help is to use a Sort-My-Treasure-By-Name spell.”

“Sounds like a spelling,” said the Dragon. “I’m curious to experience your spell, Thinkalot.”

So Thinkalot waived his wand and said:

“Amulets and Armors go to A
Bracelets and Broadswords go to B
Charms and Coins go to C”

…and so on and so forth and when he said…

“Zephyrs and Zircons go to Z”

then the treasure divided in 26 piles, one for each letter.

“Now, Mighty Dragon, when you look for the Sword of the Seven Kings all you need to do is look into the pile with the letter S. So, instead of one month, you can find any item in almost one day,” said the young wizard.

“Young Thinkalot, you clearly think a lot. You diagnosed my real problem,” said the Dragon. “You can take anything you like as payment.”

And the young wizard said, “I don’t need a payment, Mighty Dragon. Can I instead come and visit you every week?”

“Sure. Why, Young Thinkalot?” asked the Dragon.

And the yound wizard replied, “Because you have lived a thousand years and I want to learn from your wisdom. Gold is very valuable, but knowledge is invaluable.”

The story of the Three Little Pigs teaches us about hard work and strong foundations in preparation for the possible dangers in life. While hard work is essential to learning and success, we can do better. A lot of times we work hard, but we sometimes take too long to see results or don’t rip great enough benefits. One of the reasons this happens is because a lot of work goes to waste.

The prequel I wrote to the Three Little Pigs emphasizes the benefits of doing your research before attempting to solve a problem. All three pigs need a house so they have to allocate a budget for it. Bennie, the first pig, is afraid of running out of food. However he hasn’t validated his concern. So he spends a disproportionate amount of coppers for food and leaves only one copper for building the house. Vinny is simply not in touch with reality. He assumes all will be well and so spends most of the money for pleasure.

Johnny, on the other hand, does his research before making any decisions. He has ideas of what he’d like, but he is patient. Although he likes the keypad lock, he doesn’t buy it. Before he decides how to spend his coppers, he checks online about possible dangers that he should take into account. Once he collects all the information, he makes a more informed decision on what to do with the house. Making an informed decision, not only increases his success-to-effort ratio, but saves his life and the lives of his brothers as well.

I would expect 3rd graders to be able to read the story on their own. For younger children you will probably have to read the story to them. At any rate, here are a few comprehension questions you can ask at the end (feel free to mix them with your own ones):

1. What did Johnny do differently from his brothers that helped him build a brick house?
(he did his research)

2. Why is it important to collect as much information as we can before doing something?
(so we don’t go the wrong way or spend our time doing work that is not relevant)

3. If you run into a problem that you don’t know how to solve, what is the first thing you should do?
(research and information gathering related to the problem)

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

A lot of times I wish I could travel back in time and whisper to my seven-year-old-me (plus/minus a couple of years) a thing or two about scientific research and technology. Maybe I could explain how a scientific team makes a discovery or how a database works. This information would have made it easier for future-me to deal with school, projects and career. I think, though, it would have also empowered future-me with more than just techie knowledge. It would have taught me early on – among other things – how to make trade-offs, deal with life’s complexities, recover from failures and successfully collaborate with others.

But how would learning about databases or quantum bits empower a child’s life? Not because science and technology are expected to give all the answers to every possible problem a growing child will encounter. But because they will provide the child with a framework. A framework that helps to research an unknown, then think through a problem, break assumptions, work with persistence, and “build” the answer. Whether fixing a broken window or creating a painting or raising a family, this framework would come in handy. After all, our life struggles boil down to problem solving.

Don’t we already learn those things as grown-ups? Why start at such an early age? True. Brain plasticity postulates that we learn until the day we die. But, the rules we learn as children have more impact on our future decisions. If you were told as a child “don’t touch this”, “don’t try to understand, just accept” or “who cares?” would you rather – later as an adult – just do your job or become passionate about something? Would your instinct be to follow or to lead? Will you do what your friends tell you or assess a situation before making a choice? To give children good foundations, a framework that promotes an open mind and strong problem solving skills should be taught even before we learn our ABCs.

Wouldn’t someone need a Ph.D. to understand the principles of science and technology? Far from it. From my experience, the principles behind science and technology are simple enough to be taught to children. Sure, one would need a Ph.D. to learn the depths of a particular science or technology. You’d need to learn byzantine fault-tolerance algorithms before you build a distributed system for a bank. But you don’t need this information to understand that “single points of failure are a bad idea”.

Can a kid sit patiently and learn such concepts? My seven-year-old-me wouldn’t. If my mother ever tried to explain, I’d be looking outside the window at the soccer ball that’s inviting me to kick it. But if she instead told me a story about robots, aliens, wizards and dragons, I’d like to hear it. Maybe a story about a robot who always likes to get the latest and greatest (yet untested) accessories and ends up having all sorts of disastrous mishaps. Or a story about a dragon that has lost track of her treasures and hires a wizard to organize them with a “treasure sorting” spell. Sci-fi and fantasy stories can convey the message.

Would seven-year-old-me absorb the message? If the story was crafted well enough, he would. Children are fascinated about science and technology and its manifestation in science fiction and fantasy stories. Their imagination is computing like an overclocked chip. But that’s not all. I see children today handling laptops, browsing the web and playing with computer applications in a way that my parents will never comprehend. So the seed of knowledge is there as well. All we have to do is tie their excitement and exposure to science and technology to the principles behind it. If we do that, we can make them better observers and problem solvers in life.

Hopefully, the stories I write in this blog can help parents and teachers find material to tell their children. I will post each story first and then follow up with a post with meta-information about what I want to express and teach in the story. That way the story will be easy to print and read and the discussions can happen in the meta post. Between stories I will sometimes post material related to teaching science and technology to children from research I’ve done to trigger further discussions.

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko