Linda Liukas, is the author and illustrator of Hello Ruby, an innovation selected for HundrED 2019. Hello Ruby is a picture book series that teaches a more colourful and exciting side of computer science through stories. Concepts like computer hardware, coding and artificial intelligence are taught to children between the ages of 5 and 9. Hello Ruby provides unplugged activities that teach you to think like a programmer by making crafts or imagining or creating.
What do teachers and students love about using Hello Ruby?
I think the thing that teachers and students love about Hello Ruby is the storytelling aspect. So often when we teach technology or software, we only try to transfer knowledge to students, this is a lobe or this is how a function works or this is a variable whereas when we teach computer science I think we should teach the concept but also the context of learning. We should create meaningful experiences for children to understand how computer science relates to their everyday world and that’s where stories really seem to resonate well.
How can we get more girls excited and confident about careers in STEM?
I think the way to make girls more excited about STEM subjects is to show them the breadth of application of computer science while at the same time broadening the way we teach these disciplines. Historically we’ve taught a lot of computer science through repetition from memorisation to an introverted math oriented teaching study. I think the way a lot of the pupils I meet learn best by doing things, by experimenting, by tinkering, by telling stories and figuring out different pedagogical ways of giving these experiences to girls but also to boys who don’t necessarily see themselves as computer scientists is the key.
What would your advice be to an educator teaching coding for the first time?
I think computer science as a discipline is best thought as something that goes across different disciplines. There's a great poem by the Italians that the Reggio Emilia approach uses "the child has a hundred languages of expressing themselves whether it’s the language of sculpting, painting, dancing". I think coding and computer science could be one of those hundred languages. So rather than obsessing over whether you understand the whole body of knowledge around computer science which frankly no one understands, I would encourage teachers to start from something small, start by thinking about how could coding help you in your biology classes? What would computational thinking bring into your literature classes? In that way help the child see coding as a tool of self expression and as a tool of problem solving.
Why is it important for children to learn programming and computational thinking at an early age?
I think computer science runs our societies and runs our world right now. It's a far faster way to change the world than punk music or government or these other ways of changing the world. It’s really important that we get more diversity in the people that are building solutions and making the world better through computers. I think that it’s important for kids to have these meaningful experiences from early on in computer science so that they don’t become afraid, or don’t feel like it’s something esoteric or weird or scary.
Learn more about Hello Ruby on their innovation page.