Technology opens up new ways for kids to learn and prosper.
by Suzanne Rent
Our Children Magazine, Spring 2016
When Ronnie Scullion got a computer for her family, it immediately fascinated her then six-year-old son Misha.
At the time, Scullion says the entire family was learning about computers. She was taking a course in applied technology. Her two daughters enjoyed the computer too. But Misha was hooked early on. Soon he was giving out pointers.
“He’d stand behind me and say, “You know mom, there is a faster way of doing that,” Scullion says. “He quickly went beyond my skill level and started making amazing things. He figured out programs, making things move dynamically, creating games and finding all sorts of applications for it.”
That early fascination with and aptitude for technology paid off for Misha. He now works for DeepMind, a company that focuses on artificial intelligence. Google purchased DeepMind in 2014.
Scullion noticed that all her kids learned problem-solving and math skills from using the computer. But she says kids also exercise creative skills with graphic design and music editing.
Scullion now uses computer skills in her own career. She developed and currently operates Artech, camps for kids that focus on technology, including animation, robotics, and even games such as Minecraft. Scullion is a fan of Minecraft, a video game that allows players to construct worlds of blocks. While parents may not understand its appeal, Scullion says there are many skills kids learn through the playing of the game.
“There are blocks that are used to make things work, electronically within Minecraft,” Scullion says. “They are really picking up relevant skills, eg. how to turn lights on and off. They are doing it all in play, but at the same time it’s using the same problem solving processes you would use otherwise in an electronics course.”
Alexander (Sandy) MacDougall is one of two technology integration leaders with the Halifax Regional School Board. He helps teachers from all grades use technology daily. Teachers and kids use technology such as robotics, coding, and Google for Education, which teaches kids how to use software like word processors and Powerpoint to produce presentations with slides. MacDougall says schools are matching the technology that kids get outside the classroom.
“Until recently, classrooms were devoid of technology and therefore not on the same plane as the real world,” he says. “That is changing very quickly. [Technology] engages students because it is a more familiar situation.”
And while the technology kids use now will surely be different when they are adults, MacDougall says the goal is to get them connected early on.
“We often say we don’t know what we are preparing students for,” he says. “We don’t know what will be out there in five year, 10 years. It changes so often. We are hoping to do our best in preparing for that eventuality.”
Scullion says while a young Misha certainly benefitted from learning technology early on, its use didn’t come without rules or challenges. Scullion says when Misha wanted his own computer in junior high, she signed a contract with him. That contract required that he maintain his responsibilities, including schoolwork, or he’d lose access to the computer. Scullion says he kept up his part of the bargain. “I know he liked to play video games and all that and I was fine with it as long as he kept up with his responsibilities,” she says.
There is concern that kids who love games and computers might be stuck indoors far too often.
“It’s very important that young people do have time away from the screens, time away from technology, to learn to socialize with others and get out in the yard and play.”