“Why do we have a childhood?” Alison Gopnik asks a room of perplexed researchers, educators, hackers and innovators. It might seem like an odd question, but as Gopnik continues to explain the clear correlation between creatures with longer periods of helpless immaturity and exploratory learning, and a higher IQ in later life, the point becomes clear. With this psychological and enlightening opening keynote speech the third annual conference began.
The creative meet-up was held on 12 July at the prestigious Centre for Interdisciplinary Research (CRI) in Paris. The theme this year was particularly close to the heart of UNAWE: children as natural researchers ready to engage in knowledge adventures. The one-day conference was brim-filled with hot new projects, tools and policies for achieving better knowledge construction and transmission for children of all ages. From Young Rewired State () for self-motivated young coders to bring a to every school; a Wikipedia designed by kids for kids to accessible, affordable and articulate robotic technologies like .
Following the conference, participants were invited to a weekend Hackathon from 13-14 July, dedicated to creating hands-on activities through which everyone can express his/her creativity. Hackathons gather together people from a wide variety of backgrounds: developers, designers, teachers and many more, and enables them to co-create content, tools and anything else they can think of! This was the first ever Night Science Hackathon, and participant projects ranged from a computer game aimed at teaching children about evolutionary biology, to a portal to a blog for educators wanting help bringing open-ended learning into the classroom.
The resounding message of the conference is summarised nicely by this Carl Sagan quote: “Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”
To stop this massacre of natural creative curiosity in our children, we need to adopt a new approach to education, particularly in science and technology. Learning through research is the answer! Allowing young children to partake in hands-on exploration, overcome obstacles, build models and reflect on their learning for themselves, instead of handing them the answers with no context and no relevance to the real world, will not only teach them valuable skills, but inspire appreciation for the knowledge they gain.