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Should we really be so impressed that kids can use digital things?

It IS impressive for a 2 year old to navigate an iPad to find her show, or even manipulate her singing dog to play her favourite song. But, isn't this just memory and habitual skills? We are so amazed at how kids can navigate these relatively more complex toys, because we sure never had the same intuition with them. But is it really a higher-form of learning? I suspect that it's not really. If these things break down, kids don't know why or how. They can't fix them--this just reveals a consumer-level of knowledge, still. Being a digital native, whatever that is, is largely passive.

I really like the idea of true tinkering, creation, first principles and just making things from scratch. And not with just digital things: creating a meal, a garden, a wearable garment, a vehicle etc. Though, if we are going to talk digital--we need the programmers. Why is it that everyone can complain about what's wrong with Facebook, and no one can hack a better version?

I don't know, surfing, deciphering, clicking on the right spots and knowing what technology can do for you is one category of skiils, but this is quite separate from an understanding of the depth, algorithms and logic behind building a system that enables the "magic"--we need to save our awe for THAT.

  • Nov 22 2012: I applaud all learning in children. I believe that it is the responsibility of the parent to see that the child has what they need for success in life. School provides an academic portion of this learning, but not all. We should be looking for the gaps and supplementing with background, context and experiences.

    I think you are absolutely right about first principles, tinkering and creation. The Scouting program supplements education in many of these ways and provides and age appropriate structure for children and their families to explore some of the things you are describing. Visits to museums, exhibits, public buildings, public services, libraries, and similar experiences offer some context for what they learn in school.

    Increasing skill levels as users of computers is a very important skill these days. Going from software and hardware user to developer and inventor is challenging. There are age appropriate programs for this experience. First robotics, Great Computer challenge, gifted programs, special classes through schools in electronics and robotics are all available. The hobby stores also have remote control and robotic kits that are designed for children. I might caution you that there will be times when adult supervision and assistance is required. Many professional organizations also have outreach programs for kids. I know in the US, ASME, IEEE, most professional engineering organizations have these programs. Japan must surely have something similar.

    Here are a few web sites that are pretty neat. The fist one is a neat tinkering magazine, then a few professional organizations with outreach programs. The last two are what I believe to be the Japanese equivalent.

    If the parents stay engaged with the kids, and do not give up on the kids, they should succeed.
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      Nov 25 2012: these are thoughtful links, thanks robert!
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    Nov 22 2012: From what we know of humanity, we can be sure that children, from an early age, are able to master the use of components of the material culture because those are the things that are used to solve the peculiar problems of the times. So, the ability to use such is neither a grand or outstanding achievement.
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    Lejan .

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    Nov 22 2012: Some 'digital things' finally found their way into user-friendly territory, so when kids manage to use them, why should anyone (besides proud parents) be impressed if they do?

    Not so many years ago, any kid would have enrolled itself into schools for highly gifted children if they would have managed to program the VCR, especially those with funny translated instructions and millions of confusing programming steps... :o) And today we don't even use VCR's anymore and 'video on demand' became pretty simple.

    When I was a child, back in the 70ies, I just loved to dismantle things to see what's inside and to find out how they work. And I can assure you, that especially my parents were not impressed by me at all. Not even if I managed to rebuild those things and they would function again, while saving 20% of their original spareparts... ,o)

    So I agree with you, that using a simple user interface got nothing to do with any understanding of how 'digital things' work. And if you could set an ipad to 'black screen, blinking curser' only then it would separate the wheat from the chaff ... and Apple from having success... ;o)

    I rather have young kids learning in the 'real world', because that world still is our place of existence.
  • Dec 3 2012: We shouldn't really be amazed at the fact that kids are able to use digital tools, because that's just the way things are headed - for better or worse. The thing that we should be surprised about is more HOW the kids are being able to use digital tools to be able to learn more things including how to create. And yes, we should definitely be amazed at the worksmanship when it's really well-made tech.
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    Nov 29 2012: I think we should be amazed at this not because kids are able to navigate a device as I am sure it is learned but for the fact that we are still discovering things about our race. I think it would be equally important to discover that children had no idea what to do with an electronic device and I suspect people would lose their marbles trying to figure out that inability but instead we say they are amazing, call it something and give credit to Apple or whoever for making an amazing device.

    It is huge that we as humans are still adapting and we are learning more about ourselves through the use of technology. Is is a new type of learning? On a biological level I'm not so sure but culturally... absolutely. We started writing about 5000 years ago. Was that a new type of learning? we are in the middle of a technological revolution and we are learning in dramatically different ways than we did 100 years ago.

    Kids are amazing, maybe I am bias because I have a young one myself but I know her ability to navigate an iPad is something else from the feeling I get, this intuition that it isn't natural and seems a little odd to me. I know that isn't scientific but there is something to be said about that split second feeling I get when I see her using it effectively.
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    Nov 23 2012: currently, most digital devices are used as toys and little else.

    the greatest strength of things like tablets is the simplification of creating multimedia content. this does not mean that kids can create sophisticated films - that still needs to be taught and learned and quality still takes time.

    many modern devices are designed to be simple to use. this doesn't always equate to quality.

    however, for those students that struggle with or dislike writing and other traditional forms of communication, there are now options for capturing oral language and telling stories in a format many students are more fluent in (TV, sound and Film).

    i don't really think devices open the door for creativity, in fact, once you get to a certain point, they are probably limiting, but i can see that they might for some people.

    personally, i see it all as a kind of fadgetry..
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      Nov 25 2012: Hi Scott, Maybe it would be good in an age of so many tools, to make sure young people experience all the various media available to us to say what we need to say: theatre, the 'zine, garage bands, silk-screening, flash animations etc. Something is bound to make sense!

      Sometimes I think just because we've paid so much for our gadgets, we use that as an excuse to focus on these devices and expect them to streamline everything--until they don't and we inevitably move on to the next thing, none the wiser.
  • Nov 22 2012: " If these things break down, kids don't know why or how. They can't fix them--this just reveals a consumer-level of knowledge, still."

    I disagree a little with this. See, we have overcome the time were we could fix any or almost any item we have in daily use. But, we devoloped all our technology so far, that we are away from mechanical machines to hybrids of mechanical and "virtual" components, up to nowadays tools were its more or less that that what we use is just a container for something virtual inside.

    Years ago you could open your telephone and more or less discover which part does what. Today, you can open it, but you can look at it all your life, you will not discover how the sound is transported, as there is no wire anymore. The diffrence is, today you can split each part into another part and you will not discover the secret, while you could do this in past. In past you could teach yourself, today it is much more difficult.
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      Nov 25 2012: That's the scary part--as a race, we've innovated beyond blueprints. At least, then, we should prepare ourselves to live alternatively and cope when these systems break down. But I don't think we do. Our cars to our banking systems to our iPads are made of ??? and without a plan, we are REALLY causing a more entrenched dependency, don't you think?
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      Nov 25 2012: Hi Kate, I guess, after all, I fear for the extinction of well-roundedness in my and future generations. Possessing a simplified toolkit never does hold much over being able to create and sustain from your own wits. I just don't want the former to be so over-valued at the expense of the latter.
  • Nov 22 2012: At first adults don't belive that kids have astonishing learning ability in their early days of life.
    It's the matter of general phisiology and capabilities of human brain.