It IS rocket science – and we CAN all do it

I am very proud of my new felt bookmark. It is a visible and tangible reminder of the recent NCGS conference I attended in the U.S., and I have taken great delight in the past few days in showing it to friends, family, acquaintances and, in my enthusiasm, sometimes complete strangers. It consists of two pieces of felt – one purple, one green, held together by a central machine stitch, on to which I – as part of a hands-on session at the conference – stitched a flower design around two LEDs linked in series to a battery with conductive thread.

When you switch the battery on, the lights – which I placed at the centre of the two flowers – come on; when you switch the battery off, the lights go off. Simple as we may think it, it is a thing of wonder. Switch on and the light illuminates; switch off and the light disappears. How this happens is, of course, through a combination of materials (invented by humans) and human logic. A battery, conductive thread and two small LEDs are lined up in order so that the thread connects positive output to positive output and avoids crossing over itself so as to keep the integrity of the connection … simple circuitry that we learn in school.

And yet that too is a thing of wonder – that at some point in the not-too-distant past, human beings used their logic and creativity not only to work out how to make electricity flow, and to then to design the materials that would replicate this many, many times over, for other human beings to use, and then to extend its use so that rockets could go to the moon, amongst other things; but also to identify that this was something that young human beings should learn in the places – schools – that yet more human beings had collectively decided were essential for teaching human beings how to engage their own innate logic and creativity to allow them to build on the discoveries and inventions of previous eras and to take the knowledge of the world forward, so that even more people can benefit in the future.

We take so much of what is around us for granted. In fact, sometimes we take it so much for granted that we forget that it is ordinary people who have invented, built and developed so much of what we have and use. And if they could do it, so can we, and so can our children. As we teach our children about the knowledge we have garnered over centuries, we also need to teach them that these inventions prove that they absolutely have it within themselves to invent, create, develop and build.

Electronics, technology and computers – real ‘rocket science’ – are not too complex or beyond the grasp of the normal child or adult. They are all built on simple human logic and creativity, and we can all understand and develop them further. Teaching coding in schools is not something to be afraid of or to resist as difficult and unusual – it just reminds us that computers would not exist without us, and that we have entirely within our grasp the capacity to build the next steps in the future of technology that will help make a difference in our world.

And that truly is a thing of wonder.


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