Archives for posts with tag: storytelling

 

I’m a rollerball pen and I’m rude and so bored.

You must play with me. I will not be ignored.

You will draw me a circle inside a huge square

Or I’ll draw in your nose a long curly hair.


Time’s up!


What is this that you drew? Do you think I’m a fool?

Oh! You used a big Square and you drew a big pool

And you painted a Circle as a shiny red ball.

Not that bad. It’s because of my skill after all.

 

—-

 

I am a rollerball pen and I’m rude and need food.

I must eat something yummy or I’m up to no good.

You must feed me a Circle from out of a Square

Otherwise I will smudge lots of ink on your chair.

 

Time’s up!


Let me see what you drew now, you wily old fox.

Ha! You used a fat Square and you drew a fat box

And out of a Circle you made a sweet pie

It is mine! It’s all mine! There’s no need to ask why.

 

—-

 

I am a rollerball pen and I love to be rude.

So be nicer to me or I’ll paint in the nude.

You will cut me a Circle from the edge of a Square

Or I’ll pee on your clothes. You’ll have nothing to wear.

 

Time’s up!


Let me see! Let me see. Do we have matching styles?

So you used some flat Squares and you drew some flat tiles…

And then out of a Circle you made a deep sink?

That’s so rude! I am leaking! I ran out… of… ink…


Many times I’ve heard people ask first graders “what is your favorite class in school”. The child is forced to choose one subject: sports, math, language etc. That trend continues throughout school and students tend to become one-dimensional. Too much focus too early ends up hurting our problem solving skills, because we lose the opportunity to build extra thinking tools and models that can be composed together.

StoRy 4 illustrates that taking a step back, thinking outside the box and composing abilities can solve a problem even if it appears to be unsolvable. Not until the Number 4 and the Letter R realize they can combine their spelling and counting abilities can they figure out that R is the fourth letter in the word FOUR.

The story also introduces the array, a data structure that appears everywhere in science (especially in computer science). An array, is basically a list of items that can be identified by an index/position. In our story, the array is an array of characters (F-O-U-R), also known as a word.

Here are some comprehension questions you can ask your children:

Q: What is the 4th letter of the word LETTER? What’s the position of the letter B in the word NUMBER?
A: T. 4.

Q: What’s more useful: Counting or Spelling?
A: Both are equally useful.

Q: Why was the Number 4 smiling at the end?
A: Because at the end, FOUR had 4 boxes and R only 1 inside the crossword puzzle. Moreover, it was all because the Letter R jumped into the box thinking that this would make it win the argument against the Number 4. If the Letter R hadn’t jumped into the box, then the Number 4 would not appear in the crossword puzzle at all.

I hope we learned something useful today,
Dr. Techniko

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!”
“FOUR”
“F…”
“O…”
“U…”
“Arr!”


“Well, I like sitting here. I like counting over and over. It’s quite soothing…”
“1”
“2”
“3”
“4”


“Arr! Arr! Arr!” yelled the Letter R in frustration.
“F..”
“O…”
“U…”
“Arrr!”

“1”
“2”
“3”
“4”
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.”

“F…”

              “…1”

“O…”

             “…2”

“U…”

             “…3”

“R…”

             “…4”


“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 END

“We need to catch one of these viruses and …” but before Daena could form a plan, the big hungry monkey head with the twisted sharp teeth started approaching them.

“DannyBot, this Ugga Ugga seems to take an interest in us. We should head back and reevaluate. I’m not in the mood for drama.”

They turned around but another Ugga Ugga virus blocked the exit.

“Dannybot, without being too dramatic I think we are …”

The virus zoomed at them, mouth wide open.

“DOOMED!”

But the next instant the virus was caught by a lasso made of DNA coming out of … DannyBot’s body. The lasso wrapped the virus around the mouth and body tight as a squeezing tentacle. Once Daena realized they were safe she headed to the exit, DannyBot and their new prisoner behind her.

“If I were not under the shock of a near-death experience, I would be impressed. Dannybot, I didn’t know you could do that.”

“It’s quite a basic function I’ve been designed for. My lasso makes bonds at the molecular level with the object so the object is unlikely to escape,” said DannyBot as if he had lassoed a harmless-looking water molecule.

They dragged the Ugga Ugga prisoner to the closest White Cell headquarters, at the tonsils.

DannyBot constructed a message from DNA, asking for permission to see the Warden and gave it to the nearest guard. It felt like a lifetime until the gate opened. When they found the Warden he was floating around his office, eating random proteins. He looked quite well-fed in fact.

“What can I do you for, Miss Daena?” asked the Warden.

“First of all, it’s DNA Detective Daena. Second, you ‘ve been infected by a genetically engineered virus. As proof, I brought a sample right here into your office.”

“He don’t look so dangerous to me. Just a monkey face. We ‘ll take the prisoner from here. Off you go now.”

The guards escorted them out of the headquarters.

“I assume the mission has been completed. Shall I set course for the extraction point?” asked DannyBot.

“Nothing would cheer me up more, but I have a depressing feeling about this. Let’s just wait out here. How much time left?”

“There are three hours left to total infection.”

It felt like forever until finally the gates opened. At first, it looked like the Warden coming out of the gates. But as he moved out of the gate and into the light, he didn’t look as white as before. He looked dark and ugly and had twisted sharp teeth. Like an Ugga Ugga virus!

The two guards at the gates tried to swim away, but before they could escape, a hoard of hungry monkey faces stormed out of the gates and brought an end to them.

“Eat my children. Eat and multiply!” said the Warden as the monkey heads swarmed the area. Then his eyes fell on Daena. He started eating his way towards her in a steady pace.

“This doesn’t look good. DannyBot, let’s hide before more of these monsters realize we are here!”

“Don’t go Missy. Come and feed me,” said the Warden, and then gulped down a couple of his children.

They zoomed away from the tonsils and went into hiding behind the nose. “The Warden might be slow, but his children are multiplying. How much time left, DannyBot?”

“We have entered the last hour.”

Daena sighed. This was all very stressful. She wished she was back inside her vial even if it was not near a window, even if had to look at the same sticker all day:

-The recipe of life and death lies in the DNA-
The recipe lies in the DNA, she thought. Her mind drifted off to her first class at the detective academy and the principle-of-life rule they all had to memorize:

The DNA recipe is written with 4 letters.

What are they?

T, G, C and A.

And when DNA splits in two

Each half is called RNA

And every letter T is replaced by a U.

“That’s it!” Daena jumped with excitement. “I figured out how to kill the Ugga Ugga virus! The recipe of life and death lies in the DNA. Get it, DannyBot?”

DannyBot blinked.

Daena sighed. “Ugga Ugga’s DNA contains the recipe for making an Ugga Ugga virus. It’s like when you read a message written in DNA language using the T, G, C and A 4-letter alphabet. Only the message is also the recipe. Do you see?”

“I don’t see how this helps us defeat the Ugga Ugga virus,” said DannyBot.

“Well, here is the missing puzzle piece. DNA doesn’t make the Ugga Ugga directly. It has to first split into two RNA strands, and in the RNA alphabet T is replaced by a U.”

“I don’t see how this helps us defeat the Ugga Ugga virus,” repeated DannyBot.

“Don’t you get it? What’s the code name of the Ugga Ugga virus in RNA alphabet?” said Daena as if explaining the concept to a hydrogen atom.

“U-G-G-A-U-G-G-A,” said DannyBot.

“Can you search your data for the U-G-G-A-U-G-G-A sequence in the Ugga Ugga virus’s RNA?”

A few moments later DannyBot said “I searched. I found the pattern.”

“Great. I want you to synthesize the same RNA strand but replace the U-G-G-A-U-G-G-A pattern with the G-A-G-A-G-A-G-A pattern.”

DannyBot synthesized the mutated Ugga Ugga virus strand. One by one he glued together A’s and C’s and G’s and U’s until he had a full RNA strand.

“The sequence is ready. But I don’t see how this helps us defeat the Ugga Ugga virus,” said DannyBot.

Daena closed her eyes. She wished she had a hydrogen atom for a partner.

“Because if we get the Warden to eat this mutated Ugga Ugga strand, then he will use the wrong recipe to make children. His children will be Gaga Gaga viruses instead. Then the Gaga Gaga viruses can fight the Ugga Ugga viruses. I think it’s time to pay a visit to these depressing monkey faces.”

They zoomed back to the tonsils with the Gaga Gaga strand in hand. The Warden eyed them with a hungry look.

“Bring them to me, my children!”

Before Daena and DannyBot realized what was going on, they found themselves wrapped by DNA lassos from a bunch of Ugga Ugga viruses.

“My calculations tell me he means to eat us,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

“Miss Daena. Why so gloomy? You should be happy, because you’ll make a tasty snack,” said the Warden and opened his mouth.

“Wait, wait! You don’t want to eat me like that. I’m more tasty if you eat this first as an appetizer,” Daena waved the Gaga Gaga virus strand in his face.

“You ‘re a real lady,” said the Warden and he gulped down the Gaga Gaga strand. He burped and said “Missy, that was really yummy. Remind me to get the recipe after I eat you.”

He came closer to Daena, opened his mouth and was about to close it over her head, but instead he grew and grew and grew until he… burst and a bunch of Gaga Gaga viruses came out of his body.

Soon a war begun between the Ugga Ugga and the Gaga Gaga as they started eating each other. Whenever an Ugga Ugga ate a Gaga Gaga, it gave birth to Gaga Gagas.

But, whenever a Gaga Gaga ate an Ugga Ugga, it gave birth to Gaga Gagas. Soon the Ugga Ugga’s were wiped out.

“He should not have eaten the Gaga Gaga strand before checking it, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to tell him,” said DannyBot.

“DannyBot, you are learning. Yet you still have ways to go to before you understand the genius of my scheme that killed the Ugga Ugga virus.”

“There was nothing to understand. It was based on a pair of positive and negative feedback loops. It is quite a very elementary and primitive principle of life,” said DannyBot.

“You really depress me.”

The last day of my children’s book writing class we did a show-and-tell of our favorite children’s books. Instead of bringing a book, I brought in an iPad and showed Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat In The Hat” app from Oceanhouse Media. The comments I got from my classmates (among them many parents and teachers) were mixed. Some liked the extra features of the app that can only be done in a digital medium. They liked for example that a kid could click on the fish on the screen and have the word “fish” pop up. Some disliked them. They found for example the voice of the actor/narrator unfit or distracting.

If one looks at the industry news for book publishing it is clear that digital publishing is making huge strides as e-readers improve. What should we expect digital storytelling to turn into in the future?

I believe with more experience, application developers will learn what works with kids and parents and what doesn’t. At the same time, we ‘ll also learn how to get the most out of digital storytelling, the same way we learned to get the most out of our books. Especially because I think the line between what is considered a digital book and a video game will be blurred.

I was fortunate enough to interview one of the entrepreneurs in digital storytelling, Andrew Gitt, the founder of storytimeforme.com about his vision on digital vs printed storytelling and what the advantages of each medium are for educating our children.

Andrew, tell us a bit about what your vision behind storytimeforme.com is and who your audience is.

You can check out our mission and target audience at http://storytimeforme.com/about-us.

What’s unique about your site is that even though you offer digital stories, you also do prints. What led you to the decision to do both?

We recently started the personalized activity book as we recognize teachers and parents are also looking for hands-on activities.  We started off just as an online library which we plan on expanding of course. We already have over 40 books complete which we’ll slowly be releasing.

How does your technology help children learn how to read?

A child is assisted by having the text highlighted as the story progresses. However, technology really serves our higher goal. Our motto is not to teach kids to read. Honestly, that’s not what we do. What we are trying to do is make reading fun and have the national average of 4 hours of TV be replaced by more
reading.

What would you like to see the future bring for digital storytelling?

I would like to have hundreds of books with many publishers and authors with a lot of variety and be a place where kids can ‘plop’ in a safe environment and read instead of watching TV.  That’s our goal at storytimeforme.com at least.  Also I would love to see stories offered into other languages. It’s one of our future goals as well.

***

I’m curious to hear what you guys think. Here is a poll to pick your brains.

I hope we learned something useful today,

Dr. Techniko

-The recipe of life and death lies in the DNA-

Daena sulked as she looked at the message on the sticker of her vial.

“I’m depressed. I haven’t been assigned anything interesting since I graduated from the Detective Nanoengineering Academy and placed into this horrible tube in this horrible lab. I was voted the most beautiful nanoengineered virus in the Nature Journal. They could have at least placed us near a window to get some sun. Don’t you think, DannyBot?”


“I don’t see the importance of sunlight radiation,” said DannyBot.

“Are all nanobots as entertaining as you are?”

“Nanobots are robots made of DNA strands. We are not made to entertain. We are made to decode DNA, to synthesize DNA, to take apart DNA…” DannyBot went on and on about his functions.

“Booooriiiing. What’s the point of using DNA, if you can’t build something to have fun? Look at the humans in the lab. They are made from DNA like us, but they get to work on interesting things and laugh and go out. Why not us?”

“Because we are not humans,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

Daena decided to swim around. She was kicking a bunch of floating aminoacids, when a human moved towards the vial and squeezed a drop of liquid into it. A DNA strand appeared into view.

“Looks like we got a message. Another boring mission I bet,” said Daena.

DannyBot swam towards the floating DNA strand, hooked himself onto it and started reading it base by base like a tape: A, T, G, A… Then he decoded the message.

“Message Start. Detective Daena. The chairman has been infected with a genetically engineered Ugga Ugga virus. The chairman will turn into a monkey in the next 12 hours. If word gets out, the government will close the lab and destroy all genetically engineered viruses including you. Your mission is to locate and neutralize the virus. You and DannyBot will be injected into the chairman’s body. Extraction coordinates have been provided. Extraction will commence once the virus has been neutralized.”

DannyBot spit out the last base of the DNA strand. “Message Stop.”

“I really hope we take care of this virus. I don’t want to end up inside the body of a dumb monkey forever.”

The lights went out as the vial was put into a box. When Daena saw the light again it was at a great speed as she was injected into the body of the chairman.

“We are into the blood stream,” said DannyBot. “Cell analysis shows our location to be the chairman’s butt.”


“That is so humiliating,” said Daena.

“Actually, humility is considered a virtue in some human cultures,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

Daena tightened up. “Let’s go catch this Ugga Ugga virus and feed him to the white blood cells before he spreads. What is the most likely infection scenario?”

“Most likely scenario is airborne infection through the throat,” said DannyBot.

“I’m not looking forward to getting coughed at, but let’s head for the throat.”

They floated inside the bloodstream through the digestive track to the stomach and from there climbed all the way to the lungs and then the throat. When they arrived, the throat seemed normal.

“I do not detect any viral activity in the proximity,” said DannyBot.

“Great. We are back to nothing. DannyBot, how much time do we have left?”

“10 hours.”

“And how long will it take us to search the entire body?”

“21 hours. The math indicates we have less than 50% chance to find the Ugga Ugga virus in the next 10 hours,” said DannyBot.

“Simple math won’t get you anywhere, DannyBot. Set course for the brain’s thalamus, the pain processing center. If the chairman didn’t breathe in the virus then someone forced it into him. We can figure out where if we follow the pain. I should be working with humans. I should be named the greatest DNA detective in the world.”

Daena stretched proudly.

“Actually, you are the only DNA detective in the world, so by definition you are both the best and the worst detective,” said DannyBot.

“You depress me.”

They jumped into the blood stream next to the spinal cord and followed all the way up to the brain. DannyBot mounted on top of a nerve center and waited for pain signals. After a few minutes, they heard one of the nerves scream “Ay!” “Ay!” “Ay!”

“The pain signal appears to be originating from the left eye,” said DannyBot.

“I’m not looking forward to meeting this Ugga Ugga virus, but let’s head for the left eyeball.”

And so they floated from the brain to the nose and from there to the eye. As they entered the eyeball they shook from their horror. Thousands of big fat viruses that looked like hungry monkey heads with twisted sharp teeth swam inside the eyeball. Some would attack and try to eat each other, but most of them attacked the chairman’s cells. Their jaws would grab onto a cell and eat their way into it. Once they disappeared into the cell, there would be a moment of silence. But only a moment. The cell would then grow and grow and grow like a balloon and then explode.

“Bang!” a cell exploded near Daena and out of it came a hoard of ugly twisted monkey heads. They swam towards a bunch of eyeball cells nearby. But one of them, a really big one, turned and looked at Daena…


To be continued…

I’ve been reading lately about new approaches to teach children science and technology through storytelling via the use of specialized software and portable devices. The most notable effort I’ve come across is Alan Kay’s Viewpoints Research Institute which is integrated with the One Laptop Per Child project. The idea is that through the use of media and the integration of activities in one interface, children can understand complex concepts in science.

Another tool I came across is called Processing. Even though this software is not really targeted for children, it serves the same purpose: teach complex concepts through an intuitive user interface. Maybe in the future it could be tweaked for teaching kids how to write software.

Given the highly sophisticated educational software out there and the web’s ability to find knowledge fast, it’s fair to ask why would a teacher-in-school setting be necessary in educating our children in the future? In fact there are examples, where teachers start being replaced by devices running educational software.

An approach by Microsoft research relies on a multi-point mouse interface and off-the-shelf PC equipment to allow children in developing countries to teach themselves without the need for a teacher.

A start-up company called Knewton uses adaptive algorithms to coach students on standardized tests (e.g., SAT) in a personalized fashion by “understanding” their skill level. In addition, online services like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, teach university-level classes through rich-media content from the comfort of one’s home.

At the same time, the current generation of portable devices (iPad, iPhone, Android tablets) expose simple to use interfaces. Simple enough for children to use on a daily basis. So children could carry them around, meet with their friends and play and learn together. Not only that, but there are already games available that provide alternatives to learning how to read or count.

So, it won’t be long before schools have children carry around portable devices through which they enhance their learning. In fact, some schools have already started doing this.

So the obvious question is: will school teachers be entirely replaced? After all, intelligent portable software and a great user interface provide a powerful interactive storytelling medium that can not only capture the attention of a child, but also convey very sophisticated concepts that a teacher and a blackboard cannot.

On the other hand, after reading “Work Hard, Be Nice”, I see how much power an effective teacher can have in a child’s life. The passion and persistence of the founders of the KIPP schools is hard to replicate using software running on a personal portable device. The teachers made each class a ritual and enforced a “no shortcuts” culture in their schools by confronting students in person. Even unmotivated students responded positively. An iPad can’t do that.

What do you as current or future parents, teachers and educators think on this matter? I’ve created the following poll to pick your brains.

I hope we learned something useful today,

Dr. Techniko

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

“What Happened Before The Story of the Three Little Pigs”
as told by the Third Little Pig

Everyone says that my two brothers lost to Alfonse “The Big Bad” Wolf, because they didn’t build their houses from bricks like I did. That is true. But, recent rumors on the Internet said that I was able to buy bricks because I had money on the side. That is a lie. These two dummies had money to spend too.

I, Johnny, the Third Little Pig, will now give you an exclusive insider scoop on what really happened before Al Wolf showed up.

It was a hot summer day when our mom told us, “Boys, enough is enough. You are turning my house into a pigsty. You are old enough to live on your own. Here ‘s a hundred coppers to each of you. Off you go!”

One hundred coppers is a lot of money by pig standards. We said our good byes and off we went to Farmer Frankie’s Market. The place has everything a pig needs to make a home (and drink, feed, dress and accessorize).

I was punching random numbers into a state of the art keypad door lock, when I see my brother Benny picking up a pile of straws.

“Hey, Benny. Are you thinking of making a straw mattress?” I asked him.

“No, I’m gonna build me a home with that,” he said. “But now that you mention it, I’ll get some more to make me a mattress, too. Great idea!”

“But, Benny, all this straws will cost you one copper. You should spend some more and get something better.”

“No, I don’t want to. I need to buy myself lots of organic fruits, worms and chow with the rest of the coppers. I don’t want to run out of food.”

“Benny, you don’t need food for a hundred years!” I said, but Benny was already at the check out. And – nobody knows this but – Benny doesn’t really eat organic…

I went back to the keypad lock and tried to remember the last number I entered, when I heard my other brother, Vinny, calling.

“Johnny, how do you like those shades on me, bro?”

I turn around and see Vinny packing a dozen Hawaiian shirts, a huge 5 inch high definition TV, a massage chair, a gold chain and of course the latest Piga Di Farma sunglasses!

“Wow! Vinny, the shades look … expensive. Do you have coppers left to build your house?”

“Sure. I have two coppers left, bro. That’s plenty of cash. Right now it’s important I look good.”

“Only two? Vinny, two coppers can only buy you sticks!”

“Sticks? That’s a great idea. I was gonna buy straws. Thanks, Johnny bro. You ‘re a genius.”

He turned around and strolled away, before I could say anything else. And – nobody knows this, but – Vinny’s sunglasses were not real Piga Di Farma.

I got tired of fiddling with the keypad lock and looked around. There were too many things to buy and I didn’t want to make a poor choice. So, I went to the Pig Public Library and did my research online.

And guess what! I read rumors that the greedy Ratelli Rats were knocking down houses to take over the land in our town.

So I decided to buy bricks for ten coppers and spend another twenty to buy reinforced steel beams and cement for my house frame.  And for ten extra coppers I bought a biometric fingerprint scanner security system for my door. Super advanced! It unlocked only when my little piggy finger touched the scanner, so no need for me to remember any numbers!

So all three of us lived next to each other, happy under the sunshine.

But as you know, Al Wolf, who – no one knows this by the way – worked for the Ratellis, showed up one day and asked my brothers to leave. When they refused, he huffed and puffed and blew their houses away. Lucky for them, “The Big Bad” Wolf likes junk food and TV so much that he ignored Benny and Vinny as they ran into my place.

 

When the wolf came outside my door and I ignored his scare tactics, he huffed and puffed and puffed and huffed so many times that he lost his teeth and his hair and he almost had a heart attack. And – no one knows this by the way, but – he didn’t get angry. All I heard him say was “Those stingy rats ain’t paying me enough for this demanding job. I quit.”

I’m lucky he hadn’t done his research. Because if he had, he would have known that huffing and puffing can’t bring down a brick house. You ‘d need a bulldozer.

Right?

But, you ‘re not gonna tell him that, are you?

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