I came across this project on facebook and my interest was piqued. I immediately contacted them to get some questions answered so I can promote it on my blog. See responses below. I made a contribution and I am encouraging you to do similar. Also spread the word. Let’s build a better tomorrow together.
How did the idea for Gadget Box Kit come about?
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education hands-on activities have been increasing locally and regionally – prompted by deteriorating examination performance of students in the Caribbean. Robotics activities in particular are popular with children. This has proven to be difficult since robotic equipment is expensive, the units have to be imported at a significant cost and when these units breakdown they are not covered by warranty in our islands and we can’t repair them. This led us to develop the Gadget Box Kit as an affordable, robust and accessible resource to support the teaching of Robotics in schools.
We want to ensure that children understand that STEM can be fun, thus any multi-disciplinary subject that gets children excited is ideal. Robotics is one STEM subject, but there are many others (e.g. Renewable Energy).
How does this compare to the Raspberry Pi?
It’s like comparing apples and oranges … or chennet and pomerac!
The Raspberry Pi (RPi) is an excellent embedded platform – other such platforms include Arduino, BeagleBoard, and Gadgeteer (Gadget Box is based on the latter). The different features reflect the different intentions of the platform creators – RPi was intended to replace a full sized computer – Gadgeteer was specifically intended for embedded designs. They both allow us to use open-source software, but some key differences include
- Our ability to customise the hardware
- We’d have to design a custom shield-board to link our peripherals to the RPi board (not Open Hardware)
- GadgetBox controller board was customised based on a Gadgeteer Open Hardware Design
- The built-in features (reflected in the unit price)
- RPi has built in network, HDMI, and wireless communications – and can be used with keyboard/mouse
- GadgetBox controller board has no display or networking – just wireless communications
Further an embedded platform alone does not a robotics kit make – for all of them you need a power-supply, a means of getting code to and from the platform, a range of sensors and motors, some mechanical structure elements – GadgetBox includes these additional items with the controller board. You can buy a RPi based robotics kit – PiBorg and GoPiGo are good examples.
Is this something that the Ministry of Education could or should get involved in?
The genesis of this initiative came from the Curriculum Division, Ministry of Education – at the time they were considering inclusion of Robotics into the Technology Education Curriculum. The Tech Ed Curriculum is focused on developing the critical problem solving skills of students in Forms 1 – 3. Since then the Ministry has facilitated teacher training and robotic competitions in conjunction with many other stakeholders, and has loaned robotics kits, where available, to schools for their use. The MOE has endorsed our plans to trial GadgetBox alongside commercial kits, and will be a key partner in any effort to carry out trials in schools.
Any provisions for persons who can only do offline payments?
Many persons are not able to make contributions online BUT they are more than willing to give cash out of pocket. But all contributions must be appropriately recorded on our site. Persons who wish to make an offline contribution can contact Jeevan Persad @ 793-4166 or firstname.lastname@example.org with details of the desired contribution, and the desired perk. He’ll send you further instructions.
Give an example of something a child could learn using a robot.
It depends on the kit, and the activity involved. We’ve seen teachers get really imaginative in their lesson planning using robots – teachers use robots to illustrate physical concepts (like force and gravity), or to prompt them to create a story or play. We’ve also seen children in a team robot-build activity reinforce their social and team work skills, with children from one team voluntarily advising children from another team on how to succeed. We’ve seen children learn to persist and believe in their own abilities when an idea – about how to get the robot to accomplish a task better – actually works.
Is this type of project happening anywhere else in the world? (I’m thinking we can learn from other countries)
Yes! They are happening all over the Caribbean and worldwide (see Across the Ages) and most importantly other researchers (e.g. the SLIDER project) have come up with critical data to inform the conversation about whether such initiatives have meaningful impact.
What do you think about making IT (subject) compulsory in early education (just like Maths and English)?
Firstly – we are not the educators in this partnership – the educators would be better placed to answer.
From a Tech perspective: Why? How? What do you mean by IT? These are all questions that would have to be answered before engaging in such a weighty discussion. There are process, sequence and problem solving skills that can be conveyed/developed in early childhood via the teaching of Math and English. The issue is not the content – it is the method of delivery.
Anything you would like to tell readers?
We want all children to have the opportunity to have exposure to these resources regardless of their economic situation. Every contribution regardless of how big or small, contributes toward the target. We need your readers’ help to share our initiative with the world.