WANTED: Is there a 13-year-old Extra Astonishing Anna or Alexia or Audrey out there in a school in Australia?


As I was leaving Brisbane this morning after what was a very full Tuesday day at EduTECH 2015 … I was reflecting on a tweet posted by Leanne Cameron from ICTENSW – she called for Australia to find its own Super-Awesome Sylvia out in schools. Or, as I am going to call her, our own Extra Astonishing Anna or Alexia or Audrey?

The call from Leanne is spot-on … and some might say it is copying the whole amazing Super-Awesome Sylvia juggernaut but as my wise grandmother used to say “copying is the greatest form of flattery”.

download (1)For those of you who don’t know the household education name of Super-Awesome Sylvia aka Sylvia Todd – she is a 13 y.o. girl from Northern California. Sylvia started making and tinkering when she was 7 y.o. – she made stuff with her Dad and uploaded it on YouTube. It went viral around the world and her actions have helped bring a renewed interest in kids making stuff and doing science more generally. Sylvia has spoken to the UN, addressed the White House where she met President Obama, appeared on TV and she gives engaging speeches at major tech and education conferences across the globe. Not bad for a 13 y.o?

The first project book Sylvia has written has a clear focus on STEM learning.

Australian photo
The Australian : 3 June

Yesterday Sylvia gave a keynote address at EduTECH to several thousand people where she spoke about her ideas. She showed videos of making things and she even did two ‘demos’ aka science experiments on stage … they were challenging and when they looked like they were not working she remained as cool as a cucumber … a lesson for us all. Not easy to do in front of such a large audience.

In a major national newspaper today Super-Awesome Sylvia’s appearance at EduTECH is reported. ABC Brisbane recorded an interview with her this afternoon.

James, her dad says perhaps interest in his daughter’s  making … arises from parents “wanting to tear kids away from their screens”.

An interesting observation …

Getting children and young people interested in making, inventing and constructing is featured in another wonderful book – Invent to Learn published in 2013 by another … Sylvia … Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager – both were at EduTECH this year. I recommend this book to primary school teachers all the time – and in a HPC kindergarten Science and Geography project I am conducting at the moment with eight Kindergarten teachers – it is essential reading. The book has many great ideas and gives scholarly background to the Maker Movement.

Not to mention Seymour Papert founder of the Maker Movement.

tinkeringGina, one of the teacher’s in my doctoral study was a huge fan of making – in her last school she set up a Makerspace and she held regular Hackadays with other Sydney schools. Her teaching for many years has revolved around STEM subjects. In interviews conducted for the research Gina spoke about her love of “tinkering, constructing and pulling things apart”.

I remember in a Science lesson I observed – Gina disassembled a regular A4 battery in a Year 4 class on Alternative Energy – she screened the process from her laptop and it was magnified onto a larger screen so students could see it in graphic detail – she had a lab coat on with goggles and gloves. The learning captivated students’ attention – they asked so many questions. Her personal teaching mantra: “questions are more important than answers” (her dad used to say it apparently). In fact it was Gina’s father who helped develop her love of tinkering and constructing. She would spend hours in the garage building things with nails and wood – break (carefully) her dolls to see how they worked and Gina was the first kid in her primary school class to have a computer. She also introduced me to the wonderful clip “Caine’s Arcade” … teachers I have shared it with find the ideas fascinating.

We must get kids building and constructing stuff out of all sorts of materials – start by asking them to bring into class some recycled bits n’pieces to begin the construction process.

photo-original (1)In the High Possibility Classrooms research, Gina spoke about the importance of students learning how to write computer code – this exact point was made a number of times in the mainstream media in Australia last week. Gina worked as software engineer prior to commencing her teaching career and she readily shares what she knows about technology enhanced learning with her staff, students and parents. Lucky school I say!

imageOne of the meta issues in the whole cry to find Australia’s Extra Astonishing Anna or Alexia or Audrey is getting more girls into technology, especially writing computer code and pursuing careers in STEM more generally. In the latest edition of Education Technology Solutions – a great publication that really brings you up to speed with the latest tech stuff in an instant, is an article by Sarah Boyd on Getting Girls into Coding. She cites figures of less than 20% of positions in IT in 2013 as being occupied by women. There will be a shortage of coders into the future – there is a shortage now – for example, Google is funding programs to the tune of $50 million around the world to get girls into STEM.

proxyComputational thinking and visual programming are key processes. A Twitter friend I met F2F for the first time at EduTech is Meredith Ebbs from Port Macquarie – she is doing brilliant STEM work with primary students at her school. Meredith’s very thoughtful presentation from EduTECH can be accessed here. She has a Computational Thinking Conference and Workshops on 22nd June that look excellent. Some Sydney teachers and schools doing terrific work in making (and there are quite a few more) are Zeina Chalich and John Goh and in Melbourne, the unstoppable Jenny Luca.

Just on the coding and learning how to write computer code point for a moment and therehaunted-mansion-island is a lot more to say on that front – apps like Tynker are a great place to start and then you might like to think about moving your students on to learning Scratch, for example. Sylvia spoke a lot about drawing yesterday and getting kids switched on to using drawing to explain ideas … not high tech at all.

The STEM area is critical to Australia’s national productivity (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2014) – so the sooner you get students making, tinkering, engineering and constructing and really keen on all their STEM subjects – the better I say!

In the meantime is there a girl at your school who might be our Australian version of Super-Awesome Sylvia or for that matter our Extra Astonishing Anna or Alexia or Audrey? Can you help find her?