Creating the Building Blocks of a Better Science Education with the IQube

Oftentimes, teachers and parents are faced with the challenge of redirecting the attention of kids from toys to the abstract science lessons at hand. Tactiles, a Filipino startup, addresses this challenge by piquing children’s interest in science and engineering using the IQube.

THE PRODUCT
The IQube can be described as a more advanced and intense Lego set. Each cube has a specific function, and, properly connected, they form a circuit. The IQube program has set projects and Freeform, the create-your-own project. For the Senior Kit, there are over 100 projects that teach children basic electricity concepts and the function of each cube. Freeform gives children the flexibility to build their own circuits. This can be achieved with even the smallest IQube kit available as the function of each cube can be configured so that, for example, a resistor becomes a switch.

THE HUSTLE
The IQube is the product of two years of teamwork from 6 Filipinos led by Tactiles founder Joshua de la Llana who won the 2014 Ideaspace competition. Throughout the 2 years, there have been four major changes in the design to improve usability but constant changes in the hardware underneath. The first IQube set was composed of simple electronic components within small cardboard boxes. The third prototype already worked well, but, according to de la Llana, that prototype was simply the proof of concept. While it worked, the team wanted to ensure a longer life span and zero glitches. The last prototype is already being sold on their successful Indiegogo campaign. Unlike the third prototype, it is equipped with Bluetooth so that a usb cord is no longer needed to connect the laptop to the cubes. This also implies that the power source cube now has its own battery.

While Tactiles’ success in the startup community is inspiring, it should be treated with caution. We don’t want to discourage budding idealistic entrepreneurs, but the popularity of entrepreneurship in media coupled with the Cinderella stories of unicorns (startups valued at USD 1 billion + ) necessitates these words of caution: don’t romanticize entrepreneurship — it’s not always grand.

At face value, we see only four major changes in the IQube that it is easy to overlook the tedious work required. Because Tactiles is dealing with small-scale production, they had to buy two 3D printers (a huge expense for a startup!) and manually assemble everything. As of now, they have assembled over 1000+ cubes made up of tiny electronic components and screws. Then, they had to grapple with the fact that their product was not affordable in the Philippines but that it also needed to be tested. The team had to find early adopters from New Zealand, Australia and Singapore who were willing to buy from a company while knowing there was no Tactiles staff based in their countries. Any problems that popped up during their use were solved online. If the glitch couldn’t be solved that way, Tactiles would replace the IQube set.

IS TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION NEEDED?
Given the success of the Indiegogo campaign and the high-tech society of today, your immediate answer might be “YES”. However, in Silicon Valley, tech executives send their children to Waldorf School, a school focused on hands-on learning without technology. Their belief is that technology is not needed to teach children. In fact, in an interview with The New York Times, tech executive Mr. Alan Eagle mentions that an app can’t teach any subject better than a person.

According to Mr. de la Llana, if we had subscribed to the Waldorf model, we would still be using abacuses instead of PCs. Mr. de la Llana understands that the IQube could distract children from studying other subjects, but, like any toy, it is up to the parents to discipline their kids. The silver lining is that, despite being distracted to the IQube, the child is still learning.

Unfortunately, at the moment, the debate about the necessity of technology in education can’t be resolved due to limited evidence. Both schools of thought value engagement but have different methods of accomplishing that. Right now, all we can say is that it is up to the discretion of the parents to pick which learning philosophy would suit their child.

THE FUTURE OF TACTILES
Whatever the answer to the question posed above will be, Tactiles is focused on shipping all the orders of their Indiegogo backers on June 2016. They will also start selling their sets online at the full price of the sets featured on the Indiegogo campaign. Additionally, they are considering integrating programming projects into the IQube. The current IQube is configured to allow this upgrade.

While the Tactiles team would love to have each school in the Philippines have IQube sets for the kids, they understand the high upfront cost and bureaucracy would prevent that from happening. The schools in the Philippines that they have approached are conservative with their money that it is difficult for teachers to buy tools needed for teaching. Generally, if an educational tool is even considered, the decision on whether or not to purchase the item takes too long. According to de la Llana, this holds back education in the Philippines; instead, we should be as fast as a New Zealand school that only took 3 weeks to decide to purchase the IQube. In order to make it more affordable to the Philippine market, the team is considering leasing the IQube in the future. However, this requires a highly responsive customer service team and a deep inventory that is difficult for a startup.

For Filipino youth who don’t have access to the IQube and are inspired to make their own electronics, Tactiles recommends that they learn electronics and programming online — a task that requires more dedication since it is less engaging. An acceptable level of skills in programming and electronics is needed to use microcontrollers, which is inside each cube. For students who are already adept at programming and electronics and would like to learn more, Tactiles is looking for interns. Just email Tactiles at joshua@tactiles.io.

In the meantime, Tactiles is working to lower the price to fit the budget of most schools and parents in the Philippines because they want to help the world and would love to start with the Philippines.

Source:

Ritchell, M. (2011). A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?_r=0

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