(Image from”Keith Haring: The Political line” exhibition at Kunsthal Rotterdam)

This week, I stepped on stage and gave a presentation which required more out-of-the-box thinking than I’ve had to do in a while.

I was invited by the Rijksmuseum to give a talk at the Hands On! Conference organised by the International Association of Children in Museums. More than 350 participants from museums around the world converged in Amsterdam to learn about the latest trends and see firsthand how innovative museums in Amsterdam, such as Science Centre NEMO, the Jewish Historical Museum, the Tropenmuseum and the Rijksmuseum, provide children with new and engaging learning experiences.

My talk was about how museums can teach technology education concepts to help kids develop 21st century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. Applying programming and computer science concepts to subjects such as art and culture can promote learning transfer and reinforces understanding.

It’s easy for children’s museums and science centres to integrate technology education and its concepts into their offerings. But what about traditional museums filled with art and objects that children can’t touch? Time to get creative!

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is about understanding systems, how they work and how their parts work together. This concept is great for helping kids solve problems and break problems and challenges into smaller parts.

Every museum represents a system comprised of inter-connected parts: exhibitions, eras, art movements, individual artists and categories of objects. Kids should be encouraged to interpret and structure museum systems themselves based on the way they make sense of and experience museums. This approach would yield incredibly interesting insights for museum curators. To go even further, museums could dedicate areas to kids’ interpretations of the museum as a system.

Another approach to applying systems thinking in museums is to challenge kids to analyse how artists operate(d) within systems and how these systems (social, economic, religious, gender, racial) impacted their art. The religious system of his time influenced Rembrandt’s work enormously as did Vincent van Gogh’s experience of urban and rural life around Europe and history and their art provide insights.

Programming

Programming is about algorithms (step by step instructions) and turning algorithms into a program using a programming language. Some experts predict visual programming (the use of graphics and visual blocks) will replace text-based programming and this gives people with exposure to art and design a very important advantage.

Museums can challenge children to explore logic and pattern recognition and analyze art as a way of thinking about and and creating new visual programming languages. Artists such as Keith Haring, whose work is currently being exhibited at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, embedded visual symbols and codes in their artwork and put them together them in interesting ways. Imagine the impact on programming if people like him turned their attention to it.

Design

At NewTechKids, we’re big believers in teaching structured design processes and design thinking as part of technology education. We teach kids about requirements and resources as well as rapid prototyping, testing, iteration and feedback cycles to get them used to these important processes which are used by technologists.

Museums are full of art (paintings, sculptures, graphics, objects, etc.) that can serve as design inspiration. Kids can learn about the design processes used by famous artists and even attempt to experiment with (‘hack’) their styles and techniques. Imitation is the highest form of flattery! Think of the fun kids could have combining two or more Picasso paintings at the Stedelijk Museum or developing prototypes of dual-function vehicles out of LEGO blocks or pen and paper after visiting the Louwman Museum and seeing its collection of vintage motor cars.

Jumping on the Technology Education Bandwagon

When I asked the audience if they knew that this week is EU Code Week, a handful of people raised their hand. Yet only one museum had organised EU Code Week activities. I challenge all museums, not just children’s museums, to organize activities for next year’s EU Code Week or Hour of Code based on using their art and collections to engage children around technology education concepts.

I also advised them to start developing technology education ecosystems by sharing information and collaborating with technology education teachers in schools and after-school clubs, universities, tech companies and of course, other museums.

And museums, please don’t forget to encourage teachers to use museums more often as a source of context and content. It would be great if museums and teachers could start co-developing curricula and lesson plans based on technology education concepts.

– Deborah Carter, Co-Founder and Business Director of NewTechKids

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