LEGO's New SPIKE Prime Is Designed to Teach Kids Coding and Confidence

LEGO Education
LEGO Education

LEGO isn’t just a company that makes cool toys (though it does that in spades). The company also has an education arm that brings LEGOs into the classroom. And its latest release is designed to give kids a lesson in more than just brick-based engineering. SPIKE Prime provides lessons in coding, hands-on building, and—most important of all—confidence.

Aimed at middle school classrooms, SPIKE Prime features LEGO bricks, a programmable hub that can control sensors and motors, and an app where kids can learn to code the functions that will be performed by their LEGO creation. The app, which uses the block-based Scratch coding language, features a variety of lesson plans for teachers, each one designed to be completed in a 45-minute period.

The LEGO creations themselves are relatively easy to put together—they’re designed to take 10 to 20 minutes apiece—so that kids can focus on the coding and experimentation they’re supposed to do rather than putting together bricks. (This also helps kids feel more free to break apart their prototypes and try again, since they didn’t spend an hour putting the original model together.) However, unlike many coding toys aimed at teaching kids computer science skills, the lessons are designed to be facilitated by a teacher, rather than being self-led by students.

A LEGO Spike Prime build
Spike Prime's "Break Dance Model"
LEGO Education

One of the main goals of SPIKE Prime isn’t just to teach kids STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) skills. It’s also to help them build confidence in those areas by teaching them to problem-solve, prototype, and experiment. According to a LEGO-commissioned poll of more than 5000 students, 5000 parents, and 1150 teachers in five countries, fewer than one in five students feels “very confident” about their STEAM abilities. Half of the students surveyed said trying new things in school makes them nervous. “With SPIKE Prime and the lessons featured in the SPIKE app, these children will be inspired to experiment with different solutions, try new things and ultimately become more confident learners,” LEGO Education president Esben Stærk Jørgensen said in a press release.

SPIKE Prime comes with 523 pieces, most of which build on the beams and gears offered by the more advanced LEGO Technic line. Some pieces, however, are entirely new LEGO elements that merge some of the functions of Technic pieces with regular LEGO bricks, like traditional-looking rectangular bricks that also work with Technic axles.

LEGO plans to work with local teachers to release the SPIKE Prime system across the world, in 17 different languages. The company also plans to release a version that uses Python, which is a more practical coding language for real-life programming than Scratch. And going forward, the company will add new functionalities and curricula to expand SPIKE Prime’s offerings, so that teachers can have new lessons to bring to their classrooms.

SPIKE Prime will be released in August, but it’s available for pre-order now on the LEGO Education website. Kits start at $329.95, with additional elements available separately.

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

Uber Passengers Can Now Shush Their Drivers with a Mute Button

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Even friendly and sociable people don't always feel like talking, especially if it's late, they're sad, or they're in the middle of an arduous trip. For customers of the ride-sharing service app Uber, there's now a way to terminate conversation with drivers. You simply push a button on your phone and request they stop talking.

This slightly dystopian feature is part of Uber Black, the app's premium interface for people looking for a ride in a luxury vehicle and drivers with top satisfaction ratings. If a passenger isn't in the mood for chatting, hitting "quiet preferred" on the app will notify the driver to stop speaking. They can also opt for "happy to chat" if they care to engage in conversation. It's part of a bundle of features that also allows users to ask for help with their luggage, request more time to get to the vehicle, or adjust the temperature inside the car.

The button is an attempt by Uber to address some of the ambiguity surrounding the relationship between driver and passenger for the service, which allows both parties to rate the other on the overall experience. Some passengers have felt that being uninterested in speaking to their driver might lead to a lower score.

The quiet button might eventually be rolled out to encompass all of Uber's platforms. If the idea of a human mute button is uncomfortable, passengers can also choose "no preference" and let conversation—or the lack of it—takes its natural course.

[h/t Vox]

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