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

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



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