Whether it’s playing sports or learning how to read, kids just want to have fun. This explains the popularity of educational themed shows like Sesame Street. They made learning fun by creating a mix of interactive and engaging characters while also being laser focused on delivering high quality educational content.
At Digital Adventures, we have made a similar investment in prioritizing fun while also making sure that our students are learning skills that will prepare them for success in a technology powered world.
We believe that there is a challenge is striking the right balance between fun and learning. However, we think that there is a high degree of engagement and ultimately durability with learning that is demonstrably fun.
1. Creating not just coding
Technology is so much more than simply learning to code. In fact, one could argue that if you simply want to learn a specific programming language, online tutorials may be a better option. However, if the ultimate goal is to become a creator then you need to have a more expansive toolkit than just coding.
At Digital Adventures, we believe that kids are born with an inherent desire to create. Our goal is to bring this potential out in them so that they can eventually see their ideas come to life. While they are on the path to independence, we teach them about design, robotics, 3D modeling, game design, and Minecraft Modding in projects that we have created.
Through this broad based exposure, students begin to understand the full range of their capabilities. Just like when basketball players play soccer to improve their footwork or tennis players swim to improve their flexibility and endurance, we believe that coding is only one part of learning to build with technology.
Our belief is that those who will ultimately become the best creators need to have a high level of empathy. If one has chosen to focus on software but also understands the challenges inherent in design and hardware development, that makes her much more likely to build an amazing invention.
2. Project-based learning
There are many different approaches to teaching students a given topic area. Our approach from the very beginning has been project-based. This is our guiding principle when instructing our students.
We teach in the context of building a given project. For example, one of our projects, Magic Cups, is a digital version of finding the ball under a cup. Students go from a blank screen to drawing their cups, animating their cups and then randomizing cup motion across the screen.
In the process, they learn about loops (forever, repeat), XY coordinate system, variables, random numbers and 2D/3D design. However, because it’s in the context of making a fun game they often don’t even realize that we’ve covered fundamental technical concepts.
Over time, we find that once students have built a series of projects they are able to correctly discuss the fundamental concepts because they can relate it back to the building of a project they enjoyed.
For example, we might work with students on a project that randomly moves a target across the screen and when clicked, the target explodes. Since they may have already working on Magic Cups, once they realize that we need to randomize motion and create an animation effect, they are often able to work more independently on these project areas.
Since enjoyment is correlated with confidence, students often increase excitement when they are able to build parts a project on their own using prior knowledge.
3. Stealth assessment
Let’s face it, nowadays kids are repeatedly assessed and compared throughout their academic years. Based on their performance on standardized tests and class grades determines which academic track they are on. Parents know that in order to maximize opportunity, it seems best to push our children perform.
However, over time, this can create quite a bit of performance anxiety in students despite our noble intentions. To avoid this stress and make sure that we keep our learning environment fun for students, we utilize stealth assessment.
This means that while we think it’s important to understand how students are performing, we think it’s only meaningful when compared to the individual versus the broader group. Behind the scenes, we utilize a Skills Map that incorporates both technology based concepts and problem solving tools.
In practice, this results in student’s not getting a visible grade on a project. Instead, we note how much support (low, medium, high) they needed along with where they able to verbally or visually communicate an understanding of a key concept.
Using this approach, a group of students working on exactly the same project may receive individual assessments on different conceptual frameworks. This moves us towards a personalized approach that prioritizes individual development over arbitrary group measurements.
At the end of each of our classes, students are simply excited to show their parents what they built not that they successfully demonstrated an understanding of conditional statements.
4. State-of-the-art learning studios
The design of a space has a lot to do with how we ultimately feel when we’re there. Our state of the art learning studios are no different. We’ve been intentional on creating spaces that mimic a place where future inventors and innovators feel comfortable developing their skills.
We’ve focused on having our spaces be open, airy and bright. In addition, we want to make sure that everything they need to create is at their fingertips. From Raspberry Pi’s to 3D Printers, our space gets students in the mindset of this is a place where I can build things, break things and learn things.
Essentially, we take all the technology tools that are typically behind glass at a museum or other education institution and put in directly into the hands of our students.
We also incorporate giant flat screen TV’s that not only provide a projection surface for a given project but also enable students the opportunity to share their ideas or present their independently created projects.
While these are the things we do, we also steer clear of design elements that are gimmicky or simply designed to overwhelm the senses without a direct focus on learning or instruction. Similar to the ping pong tables or arcade games in startups that no one ever has time to play, these things are great for recruiting but not really tied to the product or service that startup is building.
As a result of our design choices, we’ve developed a reputation as the serious solution for those who want to learn to build with technology. We’re ok with that because we know that as expertise and experience increases so does enjoyment in the newly developed capabilities.
5. Maker-based Community
There’s a rule of thumb that says that we are the average of the 5 people we hang out with most frequently. While students only spend ~1 hour with us each week, they are partnered with like minded creators during this time.
As we think about community, we view this no differently than the competitive sports league like AAU that have developed over the years. Most professionals who compete at the highest levels began playing with each other in elementary, middle and high school. This familiarity with each others capabilities makes it much more likely that these players will seek each other out future successful collaborations.
At Digital Adventures, it is no different. We know that to go fast, you go independently but to go far, you go together. As such, we aim to build a community of future technologists and inventors that grow their skills together over time.
From students learning technology at school through events like Hour of Code or online using Khan Academy, we know that current education technology space is heavily fragmented. As such, we aim to be the glue or the 3rd place where students who are interested in creating find their home.
Whether it’s building a Battle Bot together during a summer camp or being classmates during a season of BrainSports. Students have an opportunity to build relationships with those who have similar interest and a passion for learning about how to build with technology.
We’re excited to continue developing further opportunities for students to engage with each other not just in our learning studios but in other experiential educational experiences.
Within education technology, we have a unique advantage and opportunity. Kids of all ages are drawn to technology because it’s all around them. As consumers of technology, they have an inherent curiosity about how this stuff works.
However, we can not simply assume that putting a device in front of a child is going to unlock their potential to build with technology. Instead, we must proactively design our platforms to make sure that students have fun while learning to build with technology.
This will create the incentive for them to work through the frustrations and challenges they will surely face as they continue to develop their skills into future inventors and innovators.
We are proud of the work we have done so far in earning over 100 5 star reviews from our customers. However, we are not satisfied. We believe that we are just getting started in our capabilities to push the envelope of what a top-rated educational experience for kids is like.