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TEDxKids – making and doing with technology

June 4th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of being part of a team of guest bloggers on the TEDxKids event in Brussels. Sadly I was not there in person, but followed the video stream. Here are a few quick reflections on the event.

Firstly this was not really one event, but two events running in parallel. Firstly was the grown ups conference, following the by now familiar TED format of ‘inspirational’ guest speakers making short presentations. And second was the kids event, which followed a workshop format. There were periodic report backs on the progress of the kids workshop and a final round up session presenting their work.

Despite many interesting talks, I can’t help thinking the kids event would have been the one I would have liked to be at!

Be that as it may, the grown ups event was certainly interesting. Taken overall, the theme was about learning by doing, enabled by technology. And this involves giving young people more space to play, to experiment, to make things and to fail (“mistaking your way to success”) : all things the present educational system is not very good at. And of course allowing young people access to play with and shape the tools needed for this. There was a big emphasis on making things – from 3D printing to toothbrush robots. The kids seemed to particularly enjoy playing with soldering irons (to the extent where I am tempted to go out and buy one). And the event confirmed the positive connotations now being attributed to the word “hacking”.

My favourite speaker was Mark Frauenfeder from MAKE magazine – if you have no time for anything else I would recommend watching the video of his presentation when it comes out.  I also liked the discussion around the Sugar software (can’t remember who the speaker was) with an emphasis on kids being able to reprogramme and repurpose applications as part of the learning process.

I must say though, I am not so convinced by the TED format. It works well for video. But I am not sure of the learning and creativity in passively watching an event – be it live or streamed. OK – the Twitter feed was lively. But there is no ability to ask questions or interact with the speakers. there seems little advantage to me in attending a TED event (apart from meeting friends) over watching on YouTube in the comfort of your home.

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