Grounds of future play

21 09 2010

Two weekends ago I went to an education resources expo at the Brisbane Convention Centre – mainly as a bid to get freebs. I arrived a little late but still managed to catch some of a seminar, a few free posters, petted a snake and a lizard, and entered in as many lucky draws as possible (and possibly signing my boss up for swades of spam – sorry…).

Two things caught my eye in particular. And I’ll share one now – The SmartUs Digital Playground (their Finnish website).

The whole set up is very futuristic. Kids are issued with RFID smart cards that can be recognised by readers scattered throughout the playground. They login at the main portal and are assigned a task (run from point A to B via C three times, or something more complex) and the computer records their time. This time is recorded on an international online network where kids from different schools, or even different countries, can compare each others times and records.

Additional tasks and learning can also be integrated by assigning different nodes answers to a multi-choice quiz. This also comes into play by the presence of a dancepad hooked up to the main video monitor of the playground as well. This can be used for quizzes, fitness, dancing or simon-type games.

In Finland, it even became the basis of a family/children’s gameshow which involved celebrities and national atheletes, called FunTzu. Again, these TV scores were uploaded online, so schoolkids could challenge their idols. Unfortunately I can’t find any videos of the TV show – but after some searching I have found a news item of Asia’s first SmartUs playground in Hong Kong which shows how it works.

Tapping into children’s natural competitive behaviour, and then combining it with social media and massively multiplayer gaming Lappset have really hit the mark (or market). The only real downsides to it I can see are the initial outlay costs (which you can guess would be quite high) and also the pitfall of having ‘standardised cookie cutter playgrounds’ that don’t have their own individual community flavour. There also might be other hudles here in Australia given EQ’s stance on students and social networks.


Creativity unleashed

22 11 2009

I mentioned in my last school post (the one about set ups), that I’d used a modified version of The Future Is Wild‘s animal design activity.

While TFiW is more focused on evolution and decent with modification, my class was currently focusing on a more ecological unit – what roles do different organisms have in an ecosystem, how do they interact and how do we classify them.

Previous lessons had gone through self-made classification schemes, traditional classification schemes (e.g. The Classical Greek), and scientific classification schemes. The two scientific classification schemes were taught in my classes. Read the rest of this entry »

Armchair biologists

30 12 2008

Can armchair biology work?

Armchair science is where science began. Before organised and well funded institutes were about, a lot of scientists were self funded home-based ventures.

Science at home has suffered a few setbacks. They took the fun stuff out of chemistry kits. And even if you do find a decent kit, you might be arrested for making drugs and/or explosives under terrorism laws.

So chemistry as a hobby is expensive, hazardous and possibly illegal.

What about biology?

There is a little discussion at the sci-borg collective about recent news that people are attempting molecular biology (cloning, design-your-own organisms) at home.

Pure Pedantry thinks it won’t end the world. Which is fair to say. But Discovering Biology in a Digital World points out some of the real dangers. Namely, cloning usually involves potential pathogenic organisms and antibiotic resistance – not the best things to be playing around in your kitchen.

While it’s cool that people are enthusiastic about science and wanting to engage in future technologies, it’s good to remember there was a reason further than mere regulation and technophobia over why chemistry kits got dumbed down. Some science stuff isn’t safe to be messing about with at home. Particularly in your kitchen where you prepare your food.

Science that deals with microbes, carcinogens and cold storage really needs a dedicated space. That’s why I like the idea of Community Centers with lab-rooms and storage for hire, along with amateur training courses. This sort of activity should definitely be encouraged.

The best thing about future technology though is that these days biology can be done on a computer over the internet. Bioinformatics at home is a very safe, low labour activity that really only needs a computer and an internet connection.

While I too am skeptical of amatuers making “new vaccines”. I do think some more “simple” breakthroughs are possible –  bio-based tools such as biofuels, indicators and environmental solutions – remember that Canadian kid who developed bacteria that break down plastic bag polymers.