We’re just back from our third, inspiring round of teaching in the United Arab Emirates.

NewTechKids was invited to teach computer science workshops to children ages 8-12 during the 2019 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival which took place from April 17-27, 2019.

We scrapped all computers and technology devices to teach computer science concepts with pen and paper, art supplies and games. Teaching about technology with no technology is one of our favourite ways to teach: it takes away the distraction of screens and devices and enables kids to work with their hands and their imaginations.

Some of our observations:

Innovation is an everyday part of these kids’ lives: the kids we taught are very familiar with innovation and almost take it for granted. They were very aware of examples in the U.A.E. including hyperloop, flying taxis, police robots, driver-less metros, huge solar farms and self-driving police cars.

Importance of Avoiding Cultural Assumptions in Education: we challenged kids to create an algorithm for a traffic light. We initially thought that this was too difficult because most kids applied the wrong order. Only later, when we were in a car waiting at a traffic light did we realise that traffic lights in the U.A.E. have a different sequence and timing than those in Europe and North America. (Whoops!)

Diversity is a Given: the kids in our workshops were very comfortable with being taught by foreigners which  reflects just how natural multiculturalism and diversity are in the U.A.E. Kids at the Festival were taught by writers, illustrators and teachers from all over the world – North America, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Oceania, South America. Most, if not all of the kids had a basic understanding of English and could speak it.

Kids love expressing their ideas: while kids loved our maker activities and games, they really enjoyed the opportunity to present their creations and their thinking. At the end of our rapid prototyping workshops, we gave kids the chance to stand at the front of the workshop room and explain their creations using a microphone. Our workshops went on over our allotted time but it didn’t matter because self-expression was so important to these kids. One of the winning presentations featured a girl who explained her prototype for a new, self-driving ice cream van while another girl presented a prototype for an autonomous SUV which can patrol the desert and help stranded drivers.

There was no difference in the engagement of girls and boys: the kids we taught were engaged and enthusiastic participants. We taught all boys classes, all girls classes, mixed classes and groups of children  who didn’t know each other.

A big ‘thank you’ to the Festival organisers for inviting us to teach at their international festivals for the third time. The U.A.E. has a special place in our hearts.