World Book Day is fast approaching in March with its theme of “You are a reader”. This is a global day to celebrate literacy – but not just on this day but in reality for every day of every year. This year is the 25th anniversary of world book day.
As a parent and educator when my own children were younger, I remember, the excitement of March each year, of them coming home with their world book day voucher or on a few occasions two vouchers and then planning which books they could spend them on, this was usually a trip to our local Tesco #worldbookday display or #whsmith – both children had usually read the books in the back of the car before we got home. Such was their passion for reading.
A book idea was born
However, something that was always missing from the offerings was a story with a STEM focus. So for fifteen years I have sat on the idea of where the easy places to access STEM books for the younger reader were. Fast forward to the recent lockdowns that we experienced as a result of the pandemic and I finally found the time to think clearly about this issue, I thought I would draft out one book, I realised I had a series! Hence was born – “The Digital Adventures of Ava and Chip”. I titled the first book – Smart City, it is a picture book – helping to “make kids smarter” in understanding how technology is impacting upon their lives in an easy-to-understand way.
A smarter way to shop
I really wanted to make tech accessible and a practical reflection of the world in which we live, for example, both Tesco and Amazon now have smart shops across the country, where you scan yourself in, take items from the shelves, put them straight into your bags and walk out. Almost as soon as you exit the store your receipt pings into your inbox.
In these shops, everything is neatly arranged on the shelves and I was amazed. In fact, on my visit, I walked around the shops staring at the ceiling – Why I hear you ask? In fact anyone or even an artificial intelligence system reviewing a recording of store activity will wonder what on earth was this woman doing! I was looking for cameras and sensors. The ceiling was covered in them. I then doubled back on myself and looked between the shelves – there were loads of cables and sensors at the back of the shelves.
It is only a matter of time before this is rolled out across the high street and to other stores in the country. With this massive change there is a shift in the types of jobs that people will do, the knowledge and skills required to conduct these jobs. How will our children know what is happening? We need to teach them about these concepts in an engaging manner that sparks creativity and inspires.
A changing society
Most of our daily transactions are contactless in both human and monetary contact, I rely on apps for payment. Our images are recorded by cameras at the self-service checkouts in many shops, “snail mail” has dramatically decreased, instead we now get emails or app notifications.
Let’s consider the concept of placing items into a bag and walking out of a store without going through a checkpoint with a till. In times gone by this would be theft, but not in this new world, it is the way smart shopping works. This raises all sorts of questions in how our society is changing and how matters such as theft are categorised.
The jobs that companies are now advertising rely on creativity, problem solving skills, and tech awareness. Staff need to understand user journeys through the shop, app design, systems installations, digital marketing, physical design of spaces and more. Technological impacts are changing how we live, play and work. Smart Shops and Smart Cities are just one of the ways in which how we live is changing. London is one of the top Smart cities in the world.
Further inspiration for me to write the series came from working in education and being aware that there needs to be a variety of books to inspire children that reflect themselves, life experiences and the real world. I also know that there is a massive gap in the market for books and tech books that feature ethnically diverse characters. I realised that to find inspiration for the characters all I needed to do was to look in the mirror, I am a black woman working in Computing education and many of my family are mixed race. I modelled the characters on myself, daughters and nephews.
What we need to learn
Across the book, the young reader learns about Data, Information and Image recognition. The characters Ava and Chip have discussions with their mum and she explains how the Smart City utlises data. Of course there is also an explanation of what is meant by the term Smart City! Along with discussion and explanation around other terms such as automation, apps, devices, sensors and much more. Some computational thinking is introduced through the term Algorithm, in a relatable way.
Share your thoughts
As I conclude this blog, it is my belief that tech understanding needs to be more firmly embedded in society to avoid a disparity of understanding and to ensure that tech is for all. This will go a long way to helping in bridging the Digital Divide. I will leave you with one of the opening questions from the book, “The city is changing and it is becoming Smart! Have you heard about Smart Cities?” Mums asks Ava and Chip.
Please do share your thoughts on Smart Cities, STEM Books and what you are doing to embed understanding of tech through literacy.
The Digital Adventures of Ava and Chip – Smart City is available, in paperback and Kindle format, Amazon and also from www.avachipbooks.com – the second book in the series is due for release later this year. The series can be followed across social media @Avachipbooks and the author can be followed @msbclarke.