Startup plans to broaden kids’ horizons with ‘Detective Dot’ story app

Computer science and coding are being woven into imaginative children’s stories to help broaden their world views as well as ‘edutain’.

Bright Little Labs’ recent survey of 1,000-plus people demonstrated a clear need – it found that many Brits have very odd ideas about the world around them.

For example, they grossly overestimate the amount of white people in the world:

  • they estimated 40 per cent of the global population has white Caucasian skin. In reality it is less than half that – just 15 per cent;
  • 39 per cent of respondents believed that around half of cartoon characters in kids media are white when in fact it's nearly double that - 72 per cent (only 2.9 per cent are black).

Stories 'warping' kids' ideas of the world

"Stereotypes are starkly reflected in kids cartoons,” says Sophie Deen, the social entrepreneur and CEO of BrightLittle Labs. “Stories give children a glimpse of the world outside their own, but currently they're warping their ideas about the world, themselves and others. I want to change that."

She says that the poll suggests that people are becoming increasingly disconnected from both the real world and fictional ones, with children the most affected (for example, a 2012 survey showed that 40 per cent of UK youths don't know milk comes from a cow).

Detective DotDetective DotDetective DotSo Bright Little Labs, which is now seeking investment through Kickstarter, created Detective Dot, an app featuring an 8-year-old coder who can communicate with her belongings. Detective Dot investigates their roots, like a disbelieving microchip that discovers it's made of Brazilian sand and Ugandan copper. It is aimed at 7 to 9-year-olds.

The 'edutaining' stories support the new computing curriculum – tech-savvy Dot uses computer science to solve problems – and encourage kids to ask questions like “Who made this?” “Where does this come from?” “What impact does this have on our world?”

Sophie Deen has worked with Code Club, the Department of Education and Google to support the new computing curriculum with England's primary school teachers. That’s why she founded Bright Little Labs in March this year.

She was tipped, with Bright Little Labs, as ‘rising stars’ in Computer Weekly's Most Influential Women in IT 2015 awards for promoting STEM to children, in particular girls and BAME. Women account for just 18 per cent of computer science degrees, and just 12.8 per cent of the STEM workforce. This is partly due to a lack of positive role models for young children, says Sophie Deen. "We need strong female characters like Dot to encourage young girls early to get into STEM and coding, and to make the whole space more accessible to children, and parents too."

'Dot is a great role model' – Miles Berry

Miles Berry, the well-known computing curriculum evangelist and University of Roehampton educator, commented: "Dot is a great role model. She cares that her coding makes the world that bit better."

The first of the stories is "The Amazing Adventures of Detective Dot and Mr Tumble", which sees Dot's tatty t-shirt 'Tumble' come to life. Detective Dot will be launched in January 2016 as part of the BETT Show’s ‘Futures' initiative. The digital and hardback story, with free curriculum materials for schools, are scheduled to be available from March 2016. Product development plans include apps, web-based game, cartoons and 'maker' kits for children - robotic kits that girls and boys can build and programme themselves, using ethically sourced parts.

More information

Bright Little Labs conducted a study of 1008 respondents across the United Kingdom with global market research company Toluna in November 2015, asking the following two questions:

1.  What percentage of the world's population do you think are 'white Caucasian' in skin colour?
A: 38% (57.94% of respondents selected this answer)
B: 15% (correct) (27.98% of respondents selected this answer)
C: 67% (14.09% of respondents selected this answer)

2. In children's TV globally, what percentage of all human protagonists do you think are 'White Caucasian' in skin colour?
A: 54% (38.79% of respondents selected this answer)
B: 72% (correct) (36.41% of respondents selected this answer)
C: 88% (24.80% of respondents selected this answer)

Fully cited research here
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