Dr Valérie Maquil, pictured, wants kids to plug into coding
Photo: Mike Zenari
Growing up in Luxembourg, Valérie Maquil’s favourite subject was mathematics. But she had a reservation--the abstract nature of the subject made it hard to understand its real-world applications.
Then, her older brother introduced her to computer science and she never went back. “It was maths, but way more practical. You could see how useful it was,” the researcher explains.
Today, Maquil is using her know-how and creativity to help other young people catch the computer science bug--having created Kniwwelino, a simple electronics board with an LED matrix that can be coded remotely by children aged 8 and upwards. It was developed from a Luxembourg Institute for Science and Technology project with the National Research Fund, Bee Creative, the national youth society and the technology education platform Script.
“Really, it’s like a prototype and there’s an online platform where there are blocks, so you can assemble the code like puzzle pieces,” Maquil explains. “The main objective is to get them interested in coding, so they have a positive experience and see it’s not complicated.”
Her team presented the kit at science fairs in 2017 to enthusiastic reviews and they went on sale in the Electronic Shop. Kniwwelino has been used in workshops with young people to make wristbands, door signs and decorations, among other things. The versatility of the kit means they can experiment, attaching other LEDs, sensors and cables, for instance. An intern at List used Kniwwelino to make a binary clock with a built-in YouTube counter.
As part of a contest, a youngster built a reflex speed game where people had to press the button as quickly as possible when a signal is shown. Others, meanwhile, have programmed smart house mechanisms that open windows when the temperature reaches a certain threshold. “Some of these things we had thought about, but some are completely new. That’s interesting,” Maquil says.
What's in a name? Graphic: J Bauldry
In 2019, Maquil and her team began adapting Kniwwelino for schools and classrooms. “We created classroom kits with blocks and teaching materials.” Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and they tested it in seven schools. “We were looking for pilot schools, but we had the problem that too many schools were interested.”
Besides the made-in-Luxembourg aspect of the educational tool, Maquil believes part of Kniwwelino’s attraction lies in its comprehensive training and support package. Teacher feedback suggests that training is highly sought-after, particularly among primary school teachers whose studies may have been less focused on sciences.
Maquil said she received little science education when she was in primary school, but things are changing. Over the past ten years, a number of grassroots STEM initiatives have been created in Luxembourg, including code clubs and makerspaces. Starting September 2020, coding will be taught in the final year of Luxembourg primary schools, while computer sciences will be taught from the first year of secondary school.
It is perfect timing as List spin-off Succy Lux takes up the baton to bring the Kniwwelino schools kits to market. Thanks to an agreement with the education ministry, these will be made available in Luxembourg schools in the near-future. “When I studied at primary, there was no opportunity to do this. Now, it’s really great to see that things we created allow small children to get interested in computer science.”