Empowering your kids through tech, and it’s importance

INTRO

Fire Tech is the UK’s leading provider of tech courses for 9-17-year-olds and was set up by Jill Hodges, an American living in London, since 1996. They’ve delivered over 10,000 courses to kids across the UK, the Middle East and Australia, and been invited by governments from around the world to bring their unique STEM courses to local markets.

Their focus on creating and problem solving with tech, in a fun and supportive environment, attracts ambitious parents and tech-curious kids. They offer courses in Digital Media (how to be a YouTube creator), Robotics (where kids program robots to manoeuvre autonomously) and coding (covering the full coding portion of the GCSE Computer Science curriculum in the first three days of their Teen Python course). Naturally, we were curious to meet the founder….

Tell us about yourself

Before Fire Tech I had a long career in finance and consulting. I was always a tech-enthusiast and knew that a lot of the success that I’d had in my career was because I was able to break down problems analytically and solve using tech-enabled tools.  I come from a techy family (my sister was one of the first women to receive a PhD in Computer Science at her uni) and as my kids were getting interested in digital toys, I realised that they were experiencing those as a black box and weren’t learning how they actually worked.

I attended one of their “tech” classes and was extremely concerned that they were only learning Microsoft Word and that even there, the kids knew more than the teacher.

I only get a good entrepreneurial idea about once every decade but I felt sure that other parents would share my concern about what my kids were learning! So I created the first tech camps for UK kids.

Why is tech important and why should parents take an interest?

Some say 60% of children in primary school today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist. 21st-century life requires young people to be adaptable, creative problem solvers. Young people with tech skills will have an advantage both in jobs and in creative tools.  Kids aren’t going to get those skills sitting in front of a computer screen as a passive consumer.

It’s not just blue-collar jobs that will be replaced with technology, but white-collar jobs will be revolutionised, too. Whether that’s the role of a surgeon, entrepreneur, investment banker or corporate lawyer.

We need young people who are curious, creative and resilient. That’s why at our camps we put an emphasis on “hands-on learning.” Our courses use a project-based learning pedagogy, and there are no in-course assessments.  This frees the students up to take creative and intellectual risks while they work on original projects that are meaningful to them. At the end of most classes, the students have completed original work that they can share – whether that’s creating their own video game, publishing a website or having an online portfolio of their photography work.

If it’s so important why aren’t schools teaching these skills?

Schools have started teaching Computing across all ages, and in fact the UK is one of the countries that is furthest ahead on that front.  But given all the other demands they have, and the difficulties finding really great Computing teachers, most schools stick to the basics. Until recently it was all ITC and computer science really wasn’t considered particularly academic.  But as the economy has changed, and as start ups have become such an important force, parents have started to see the value in the subjects.

The luxury we have at Fire Tech is that we can create projects that we can find the most exciting trends and create really fun content for young people around those. Last year, for example, we saw that 50% of FTSE 100 companies were experimenting with AR/VR, so we designed a course around it.  Now we have 12 year old creating virtual reality worlds and exploring them with Google Cardboard headsets!

But there are a few ways you can get your school “teched-up.” Ask your child’s Head to consider supporting robotics or coding clubs. You could suggest that your child’s school to join free global initiatives like Hour of Code, or participate in competitions like this one from BP (where winners receive £1,000 worth of prizes for your school). You can also intro them to Fire Tech and we are happy to set up afterschool activities on school grounds.

Parents often feel overwhelmed by tech. How do you suggest we tackle this?

For a generation who haven’t “grown up” in tech, it’s understandable that parents can feel overwhelmed.

What I always tell parents is to get to know your child’s world. For example, last week I sat down with my game-loving 14-year-old son to play Fortnite. While I’m not a gamer myself, I wanted to see what’s so attractive in this game and to understand how he’s playing it with friends and others on the internet.

I was impressed to see how complex the gameplay and strategy were.  Kids were playing in teams, dividing up tasks of building, offence and defence in the Battle Royale.  There were funny touches like the dance moves.  The kids were playing together on their headphones.  It wasn’t gory. I was reminded of an article I’d read about how music – reading the scores, manipulating the instruments and adapting the sounds – lit up the whole brain.  I bet Fortnite has a similar effect and I understand why it’s engaging. Obviously, none of us want our kids to spend too much time playing these games, but I think we’re much more comfortable and appreciative if we understand why they like some of these games so much.

There are plenty of tech toys the whole family to be involved in. We hand picked this techy gift guide with quality toys for every budget.

What are some of the things you can do to empower your kids through STEM?

We need to create environments where kids can thrive and I believe we genuinely do that at Fire Tech. One parent said, “attend a Fire Tech camp and you can get an inside look at future world leaders.”

It’s amazing to have 9-year olds tell us that they’ve created apps that does restaurant reviews and one day they want to compete with Uber Eats. Or hear our Python students tell us they want to learn how they can play the stock market through coding.  And they are doing that in a community where they collaborate and make like-minded friends.

There are also plenty of events and exhibitions – some of our favourites at the moment are:  Design/Play/Disrupt exhibit of video game art at the V&A right now, the BAFTA Games Award,  and the Pioneer community for teens that have ideas for creative projects. I also watch the ROLI facebook page for chances to see cool digital music performances, like the hands on We Are Robots digital music workshops and shows in Shoreditch a couple of weeks ago.  Acorn Aspirations run some super cool hackathons for teens. We share these and other fun things we find on our facebook and Twitter feeds so feel free to follow us there!

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