Amazon has revealed it is expanding its range of free online STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities to keep children educate and entertained over the Christmas holidays.
The tech company’s selection of activities includes a new game called Cyber Robotics Challenge.
This three-hour long event tasks a youngster with using maths to ensure a friend’s birthday present gets delivered by an Amazon fulfilment centre robot.
Amazon has also expanded its popular educational platform Maths4All to include secondary school-level activities as well as those geared towards younger pupils.
Maths4All offers hundreds of worksheets on Kindle and Fire Tablets and maths challenges via Alexa.
Amazon said its free activities ‘can help maintain and accelerate learning and development’ at a time when children have had to adapt to life in a pandemic.
Ofsted recently revealed that UK children of all ages and backgrounds have lost some basic skills and learning as a result of school closures and restrictions.
‘At Amazon, we are passionate about education and learning,’ said John Boumphrey, UK country manager at Amazon.
‘After a disruptive year of Covid-19-related school closures and distanced learning, we wanted to support families by providing free and easily-accessible educational resources to help young people keep learning while having fun over the school holidays.’
Here’s a look at the free activities available to children as part of Amazon’s push for children to make up for lost learning in STEM subjects.
Cyber Robotics Challenge
Cyber Robotics Challenge is one activity on Amazon Future Engineer, the tech giant’s programme for lower-income backgrounds to try computer science and coding.
Challengers have to take control of Hercules, Amazon’s small, round fulfilment centre robot, to deliver their friend a birthday present on time.
The challenge is hosted virtually by Fernanda and Jacques, two real-life Amazon Future Engineer apprentices, who guide each student through the challenge and teach them about their own careers in computer science.
Students need to sign up with an account on the Cyber Robotics Challenge homepage and complete to earn a spot on a virtual leaderboard.
As well as hosting students, teachers can sign up an entire class on the platform within a ‘virtual classroom’ for a group play mode.
Other free resources available as part of Amazon Future Engineer include Hour of Code: Dance Party, an interactive dance-themed online coding tutorial.
The programme includes opportunities for students from lower income backgrounds aged 18 and over to apply for apprenticeships and university bursaries.
Amazon highlighted how some school children had lost basic skills and learning as a result of school closures caused by the pandemic
In July, Amazon teamed up with education bodies to launch Maths4All, an online ‘storefront’ providing free primary maths resources.
Maths4All provides a selection of free, curriculum-linked maths worksheets, apps and games to complement work done at school.
Now, Maths4All is being expanded this week to also offer free maths learning resources for secondary school students.
New offerings include GCSE and A-level prep books, maths books and workbooks from the Open University and the University of Cambridge and computing books from University College London.
Amazon has also teamed up with The Open University and maths sites including Conquer Maths and Cazoom Maths for the new secondary content.
According to the Amazon, it’s added hundreds of new resources like books and worksheets for Kindle and Fire Tablets and free games and apps.
Jamie Frost, who runs the online learning platform Dr Frost Maths, has also contributed a number of original secondary resources to Maths4All.
‘I want to engage students in a way that is relevant to their interests and their lives, as this is the best way to encourage students to consider further study in these subjects,’ he said.
‘Our passion and enthusiasm as teachers plays a key role in developing world-class learning resources.’
Alexa – the Maths Coach
Any bored children during the Christmas holidays can also test their maths skills with Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant.
Just like Amazon offers apps for smartphones, it offers ‘skills’ for its Amazon Echo range of voice-activated smart speakers, which are powered by Alexa.
Amazon users can enable and disable Alexa Skills on their Amazon account with a simple click of a button.
For the Christmas holidays, ‘Maths Coach’ is a skill that aims to keep children’s ‘mathematical brain active’ with five levels of difficulty.
Once Maths Coach is enabled, kids can say ‘Alexa, ask the Maths Coach to start a test’ or ‘Alexa, ask the Maths Coach for a hard addition test’.
For some more ‘light-hearted learning’, they can also say ‘Alexa, tell me a fact about maths?’, ‘Alexa, tell me a joke about maths’ or ‘Alexa, rap about pi’.
There are also games that can be enabled through Alexa Skills, including Math Mountain, where players have to answer seven maths questions correctly to reach the summit.
Amazon account holders can enable Maths Coach online, turning digital assistant Alexa into a maths expert
Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize
In November, Amazon launched the Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize, a UK-wide challenge for 11- to 16-year-olds to submit their ideas on how they would use technology for social good.
Teams are invited to ‘put their passion for STEM subjects to the test’ by creating solutions to some of the world’s biggest issues from climate change to ageing populations.
The programme hopes to provide young people from all backgrounds with an introduction to the possibilities of entrepreneurship in STEM.
Children can form team and enter the virtual competition until February 12, making the Christmas holidays a perfect time to enter, according to Amazon.
The firm said it’s also working with education charity Teach First to support the recruitment and training of 50 secondary school computer science teachers and more than 200 careers strategy personnel.
‘SIGNIFICANT EDUCATION LOSSES’ DURING PANDEMIC: OFCOM
Busy parents, bad equipment and a lack of internet meant ‘many children did not do’ the virtual work they were set when schools were closed, Ofsted said today as it warned the scale of lost learning caused by Covid-19 will be ‘significant’.
The watchdog said in its annual report it is still too soon to know how much damage has been done by the coronavirus crisis to the education of the nation’s children.
But it painted a grim picture for many pupils’ development as it said the disruption will be ‘reflected in widening attainment gaps’.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, suggested a shift to online learning had helped when schools were shut but warned it ‘can only ever be a partial solution to ensuring a good quality of education’.
Ms Spielman said many children did not do the remote work they were asked to, often ‘because they did not have the hardware, connectivity or quiet space to work’.
She also warned that just because a student was ‘logged on’ they were not necessarily ‘fully engaged in the learning’.
Schools and colleges across the country shut their doors between March and June this year during the first nationwide lockdown as they moved lessons online.
Ofsted said the shift away from classrooms will inevitably have had an impact on children’s development.
The report said: ‘Many children lost not just a term’s education, but also the consolidation of what they were taught in previous years.
‘While we do not yet have reliable evidence on “learning loss” from the pandemic, it is likely that losses have been significant and will be reflected in widening attainment gaps.’
The report, authored by Ms Spielman, said ‘we cannot yet say how long it will take to retrieve lost ground’.
The document said the Government’s direction to schools during lockdown to provide remote learning was ‘helpful in spurring development’.