Teaching our kids to be more innovative onscreen and off.

Creativity is the foundation for problem solving and critical thinking that builds innovators.

The New Zealand Government is encouraging schools around the country to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to their students in the hope they will continue pursuing these fields when they enter tertiary education. This is due to the foreseen higher demand for innovative thinkers in NZ and global workforce in coming years as technology continues to develop rapidly. Personally I prefer a STEAM (where A is for Art) approach fostering the creativity which makes great problem solvers.

Here are some ideas for fostering innovation in our children both on screen and off.

Ideas for off screen innovation:

Don’t create barriers to creativity – provide them with plenty of paper to draw on, save them boxes, bottle tops and other bits to glue together. Provide them with a glue gun and scissors, and try to hold back from getting upset about the mess.

Don’t set a rigid concept – Lego is has always been a favourite of mine, but I am not a big fan of those that come with set instructions on what to build. Let your child come up with their own concept of what a plane, motorbike or shop should look like. You can throw out some ideas to get them started but don’t lock them into a rigid concept of what the outcome should look like. The same applies when they are creating artworks – hold yourself back from saying things like “shouldn’t the sky be blue?”.

Give them problems to solve – whether they are real life or imagined eg. How many posts will I need to build this fence or If I was going to build a shop on the moon what would it look like.

Let them follow their dreams and interests – There are opportunities to learn maths, science and writing everywhere you look. Make resources like books available on your children’s favourites interests  – second hand book sales are great.

Ideas for on screen innovation:

Please note this is not an extensive list of apps available just some that we enjoy.

Apps for building new worlds.

  • Minecraft and Terraria are adventure games where players building structures, fighting monsters, and exploring a generated world that they create. By collecting building materials and completing various goals, players advance their character through the game, becoming more powerful and creating ever more complicated structures. Both are designed to use the players creativity and problem solving skills to build with.
  • Toca Boca brings you a great nature based app called Toca Nature where you can shape nature by planting trees to grow a forest, raising a mountain and enjoy the view. Collect berries, mushrooms or nuts, and feed the different animals.

Apps that use physics and problem solving concepts.

  • Thinkrolls where kids have a blast navigating through a series of obstacles in brightly patterned mazes. Players encounter and use to their advantage force, acceleration, buoyancy, heat, elasticity and gravity to get their Thinkrolls where they need to go combining physics and problem solving.
  • Filimundus has two great invention based apps that require kids to build inventions while problem solving using physics – Pettson’s Inventions 3 & inventioneers which my son Riley recommends.
  • Jundroo make a cool collection of apps called simple planes, simple rockets and simple physics. Simple rockets comes highly recommended by Riley also and allows you to design your own rocket ships, blast off into space and explore the solar system.
  • Tinybop offers several topical science apps including human body, plants, homes, simple machines, the earth, skyscrappers, space, mammals, robot factory and everything machine – the only down side is these are only available for apple devices.

Apps that teach programming.

Programming helps kids visualize abstract concepts, explore the real-world applications of math concepts, use their problem solving skills and creativity. There are a few different apps out now that teach programming including

  • Tynker is a complete learning system that teaches kids to code. Kids begin experimenting with visual blocks, then progress to JavaScript and Python as they design games, build apps, and make incredible projects.
  • Scratch Create stories, games, and animations and share with others around the world.
  • Lightbot Solve Puzzles using Programming Logic.

Are there any other apps that your children really enjoy? let me know in the comments.