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Anica Pavlović, CEO, Children’s Innovation Centre

Learning Is Best Through Play

The Children’s Innovation Center deals with the educating of children and young adults in the fields of robotics, computer programming and electronics through courses that foster an interest in science in the best way

We provide an education for children from the earliest age until the end of secondary school. The age groups are small and narrowly defined, such that a single educator works with a maximum of six children, thereby ensuring high-quality work, the dedication of mentors and productive cooperation between participants – explains Anica Pavlović, founder of this unique education centre and programme.

“This beautiful story and mission began in 2012 at the University of Belgrade Faculty of Electrical Engineering, when, as part of a team, I implemented a programme for the education of the children of employees of company Comtrade using LEGO Education sets. Back then we already knew that LEGO isn’t just a toy, but rather that it’s probably the most serious tool for learning STEM sciences, especially robotics and programming for various age groups. The effects of learning in a practical way, through play, which very quickly became visible, aroused in me additional interest and a desire to make the acquiring of future skills available to as many children as possible nationwide across Serbia.”

Three-year-olds also know how to make robots

— “The education experts of the Children’s Innovation Centre, working in collaboration with professors of technical faculties, created programmes that gradually introduce children to the world of the technical sciences, building a deep understanding of the basic postulates of robotics (mechanics, physics, electronics, machine learning etc.), developing programmers’ logic and forming the knowhow and experience that are important not only for the jobs of the future, but also for overcoming challenges in everyday life. Children from the ages of three to 16 can take our courses, while we work with young adults up to the age of 19 when it comes to preparations for competition.

“Children at the earliest age, from three to five, learn so-called offline programming, without the use of a device. The aim is for them to understand the flow of a program, cause and effect relations, but also to understand the basic logic behind the process of giving instructions to a robot. Our goal is to develop their fine motor skills, emotional intelligence and social skills.

“Younger primary school children and preschoolers construct robots in accordance with instructions and program them to perform specific tasks. They discuss algorithms prior to creating a program, while the older ones also draw an algorithm outline, because the basic idea is for them to understand the way a program is built, and the way in which it is required to relay that to the machine in order to gain the desired result. Our focus in this period is on teamwork and learning from mistakes.

“Older primary school children engage seriously in construction and mechanics, making fully autonomous robotic systems, initially using a program similar to Scratch for the programming, and subsequently Python etc.”

Programming classes aren’t to be missed

— “The basic aim of the lesson is to get robotic system running, to breathe life into it and for it to serve its purpose. This is where coding comes into play, without which everything would be meaningless. Programming specific tasks, testing what has been programmed on the spot, spotting and correcting mistakes, and repeating that process a huge number of times, enables the child to develop their critical thinking skills and logical reasoning and acquire tenacity. We are in no hurry to introduce new programming languages, because we are advocates for the notion that syntax can be learned easily by everyone provided they have acquired and developed a good command of basic programming logic.

“A statement that is often repeated by parents and represents perhaps the most precious compliment we receive is “our child has been refusing to attend other activities for some time, but coming to your robotics classes is not questioned”. I believe that says a lot about us; about the way our educators work with children and the programme itself, which is a lot of fun for children of various ages. Play is a child’s natural state, unconstrained exploration, making and learning from mistakes, and we strive to provide them with the chance to do that in every lesson.”

LEGO birthdays – unique in the region

— “We are also proud of our LEGO birthdays, which represent a complete experience for the child celebrating their birthday and for their guests – children spend the time in an intelligent and useful way, learning something new, relevant and interesting. After the educational part, which implies robotics workshops, we add a competitive element: they work in teams to execute various tasks within the scope of the LEGO challenge, which creates an incredible atmosphere.

“These kinds of birthday celebrations, which are unique in Serbia and the region, are excellent for school-aged children. And the parents are delighted, because they can make the celebration simultaneously fun and educational. That’s why we often see one birthday celebrating resulting in five or six other children from the same class subsequently scheduling a celebration with us, which they will all attend with the same enthusiasm and interest.

In cooperation with discover Serbia, we offer innovative “lego team building programmes” for companies wanting to improve the teamwork and productivity of their employees

“Apart from commercial content, the Children’s Innovation Centre also pays great attention to its CSR projects. Our goal is to secure free workshops, lectures, competitions and other educational activities focused on STEM sciences for the largest possible number of children and young adults throughout Serbia and the region, and we are assisted in doing so by socially responsible companies.

“We are particularly proud of the Vukobratović Days of Robotics event (vukobratovicevidani.rs), which is held in the building of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Belgrade. The central part of this event is an international competition intended for children aged from four to 19. Last year’s event attracted more than 5,000 visitors and over 500 competitors from across Serbia and around the region. Participation was completely free of charge for both visitors and competitors. This year’s event will take place in December.”

Programmes also available during the summer break

The Children’s Innovation Centre currently operates at two locations in Belgrade – in New Belgrade and Stari Grad – but also in Pančevo, Novi Sad and Užice, and at 11 major companies. We organise camps for children during the summer and winter school holidays, on Kopaonik and Zlatibor mountains. Alongside regular activities conducted within the framework of our locations, we are particularly proud of our large number of successful multi- year partnerships with different companies. As a significant benefit, large and responsible companies that take care of their employees often offer our workshops, courses and camps, New Year celebrations, family days and other activities for the children of their employees.

“Apart from this, in cooperation with Discover Serbia (www. discoverserbia.rs), we offer innovative “LEGO team building programmes” for companies wanting to improve the teamwork and productivity of their employees. “Our team of experts is committed to creating tailored activities that are conducted professionally and with high quality, and that offer employees an opportunity to be liberated from the stress and routine of their work environment, while at the same time building stronger bonds with colleagues, developing creativity and improving communication, all of which is achieved through fun LEGO Challenges.”

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