De-coding the Future: Digitalwerkstatt is empowering the next generation

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Mitte, a small group of eight- to ten-year-old kids are huddled around a projector screen. Before them, two teachers demonstrate how to make colourful animated dogs spin, jump, and walk ten paces forward, all through simplified code.


Alison Rhoades


Valentina Culley-Foster

It’s mid-afternoon, and the kids are visibly tired, but have enough energy to shout out suggestions as to what the dog’s next move could be, aware that only certain blocks of code will fit together. Soon the demo is complete and the group divides up into pairs, each of which are given their own brightly coloured MacBook. Now, they will use the skills they just learned to work on their own video game that they will present to their parents in a few hours.

This is the last day of spring camp at Digitalwerkstatt, a German organisation that teaches digital skills to kids aged six to twelve, allowing them to understand the basics of the technology so present in their daily lives. This week, the participants have built robots, experimented with a 3D printer, made videos, and written code to make their own computer game.

‘Learning by doing’ is their motto, says Julia Eckhoff, Digitalwerkstatt’s Berlin project manager. ‘But it’s also important that the kids understand what they are doing.’ There is enough passive absorption of technology in their lives, she explains, and so the aim of Digitalwerkstatt is to empower kids to engage with it in a mindful way. Thus, they learn the basic vocabulary and applications of coding, some fundamental robotics, and even digital animation.

The work that Digitalwerkstatt is embarking upon is part of a worldwide initiative aimed at getting kids to start programming at a young age. ‘Don’t just buy a new video game, make one!’ President Obama famously quipped, and programs like and Girls Who Code are just some of the many organizations promoting digital literacy for the next generation. You can even find toys for toddlers that teach them the fundamentals of programming before they can even read or write. But is this just fun and games, or are we doing our kids a disservice if we don’t make sure they are as fluent in mapped programming concepts as they are in arithmetic? As technology becomes more and more prevalent in our daily lives, will those lacking knowledge of basic computing language be left behind in the future economy?

‘We have to educate the kids for a future wherein we don't know what is going to happen.’

‘We have to educate the kids for a future wherein we don’t know what is going to happen’ says Julia as we huddle together on the small children’s stools. ‘At the moment, we are educating them for a reality that is no longer there in a way, but the jobs we will do in the future … we don’t know yet what they will be.’

Digitalwerkstatt is a kid’s wonderland, with brightly coloured furniture, interactive toys, art supplies, and handmade projects decorating the walls and shelves. The animated dogs the kids are now working on were made using a program called Scratch, developed by The Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab to help kids learn the basic language of coding. Next, Julia shows us the robotics project that the students have created, a hardware sculpture resembling the insides of a computer. Earlier that morning, they had a family workshop for children aged six to seven. ‘Here’, she beams, ‘parents and kids learn together, which is really important because then parents really take the time to do something with their kids.’

Someone cries out, and Julia has to excuse herself to run and speak to a pair of boys who have gotten into an argument while playing at a laptop. This is the daily stuff of working with kids, and after a short pep talk, the dogs they’ve coded are dancing, spinning, and moving again, and the boys are laughing.


Digitalwerkstatt was founded two years ago by Verena Pausder, who teamed up with the Bavarian toy company HABA to create an organization dedicated to teaching kids the fundamentals of digital technology. The relationship with HABA meant that instead of writing bi-annual grants or spending precious time organizing fundraisers, Digitalwerkstatt could focus 100% on the kids. ‘The goal is to be self-sustaining’, says Julia. ‘It’s absolutely clear that this won’t be a cash cow, but that’s not the point.’

Though it might not be a franchise in the making, the organization has been growing fast. Their pilot programme was in Berlin, both at their space on Linienstraße and at the Facebook-owned Digitales Lernzentrum Berlin. After a year in Berlin, they opened a space in Munich, and since then they have opened in Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Lippstadt.

Digitalwerkstatt tries to reach as many children as possible by working with schools and offering private workshops and camps. They collaborate closely with institutions across the cities in which they are based, with both public and private schools booking regular sessions or one-off workshops. Digitalwerkstatt is responsible for the pedagogical content, lesson plans, and materials. This means teachers can relax a bit while gaining new insights on how to integrate technology into the classroom.

In the afternoon are the private courses, meaning the kids come to explore a specific theme such as coding, robotics, minecraft, or video production. On weekends and holidays, they offer three-hour workshops or, as is the case at the moment, week-long camps where kids can spend an immersive five days embarking on a plethora of digital experiments. Parents can even book a workshop for a birthday party or special event. The organisation also works with underprivileged communities, offering a 75% discount to those with a Berlin Pass 75%. Unsurprisingly, demand for the courses is high, and Digitalwerkstatt is always fully booked.

Julia has been on board from the beginning. Her background is in cultural studies, but she also studied education. Her passion for her job is evident in her every word: ‘I love helping people get along and be active, to solve problems, to be confident. This is my approach to really supporting the kids.

‘In my experience, it’s really good to have a team that’s committed to building something.’

Julia is also responsible for building Digitalwerkstatt’s team, which is comprised of pedagogues, game designers, coders, educators, and cultural theorists. Hiring instructors is particularly difficult, she explains, because they have to have both the technical skills and the ability to convey those skills to a younger audience:

‘It’s important for us when I choose the instructors that I see how they work with the kids, that they’re not just technically skilled, but are good at teaching. Of course they know a lot already, but they have to work with what the kids know. It’s not so easy to find people who are both interested in the pedagogical side of things and this interest in technology.’

The fixed team in Berlin consists of five team members and several freelancers. ‘In my experience, it’s really good to have a team that’s committed to building something’, she smiles.


Teaching programming to kids has become a trend these days, and it’s hardly a surprise. Many experts, including Bill Gates, see a bleak future for the job market in the coming century, asserting that robots and computer programs will likely be doing a range of the jobs many cling to for stability. Areas such as factory work and customer service have already begun to feel the losses, and the transportation industry is likely to be next. According to New York Magazine, by 2020, the tech industry expects to have a million more positions than it can fill. One good way to secure a bright future for our kids, many argue, is to arm them with the language of coding so that they can thrive in an increasingly digital world. After all, in a world full of robots, someone has to program them, right?

Even if not every pupil will grow up to be the next Bill Gates, the skills required for coding, principally computational thinking, could be valuable tools that prepare children to solve problems across their future professional and personal lives, argues Dan Crow in the Guardian. ‘Computational thinking’, he writes, ‘teaches you how to tackle large problems by breaking them down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable problems’. In the same way that theatre classes improve communication skills or science helps us understand and marvel at the world around us, perhaps coding classes could make us better, more efficient thinkers.

Cities like New York hope to offer every kid access to coding classes within the next ten years, and countries like Estonia and Australia already incorporate it into the national curriculum. But Germany has been slower to catch on to the trends in ed-tech. This is partly a funding issue, with schools being dependent on the local government for their budgets, but it is also an issue of culture and generation. ‘Especially in Germany, they are not so open to technology’, Julia admits. Sometimes, however, it’s that teachers simply don’t have the training needed to figure out how to integrate technology into their classrooms. Generational gaps and the primarily analogue education degrees in Germany mean that teachers, while they may be open to new ideas, lack the knowledge to bring them to their students.

For this reason, Digitalwerkstatt also offers teacher training, where instructors can come with their colleagues or individually to gather cutting-edge pedagogical tools to help their students absorb information in new and exciting ways. It’s not only about giving teachers the computers or tablets that they could use, explains Julia, it’s training them how to use them effectively: ‘Sometimes you see that schools have the technology there but they don’t use it. You need a concept, you need a plan for what to do with it.’

It is considered common knowledge that too much time in front of the television has an adverse effect on children’s brains, but most experts agree that the monitored use of tablets or computers is not harmful for children. Whatsmore, it’s an undeniable fact that the future will see more and more technological advances as children grow up, meaning that the sooner they grasp how to use technology for good and what its limits are, the better. Julia agrees:

‘It makes no sense to forbid it. Of course you need some rules or agreements, but we cannot avoid the topic. We want the students to, in an age-appropriate way, deal with the digital world. Because, in dealing with it, questions come up, we talk about it, have experiences, and this is the way you gain confidence and can learn yourself where the limits are. It’s not a given, you need the education.’


It is easy to see how much the kids love their experience at Digitalwerkstatt, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. ‘I’ve very often heard, “It was the best day of my life!”’ Julia exclaims. Although her job requires long hours and a lot of energy, the inspirational stories that fill her week are more than worth it:

‘A few weeks ago, one of our girls who comes on a regular basis to our courses asked to give a workshop on her own to her friends. Her mother said that a trainer could be there, but only as a backup! Of course we did it, and I found it so inspiring because this is exactly what we want: for kids to be confident and to showcase what they can do.’

This story is especially moving given the current gender disparity in the world of tech, with even giants such as Google boasting only 30% women across its worldwide staff. Discrimination concerns aside, there is certainly a cultural component hindering girls from embracing an interest in technology, and the reality is that there even at Digitalwerkstatt, more boys register than girls. ‘We really have to fight against it’, Julia admits when asked about gender disparity in the organisation. To combat this stigma, they offer international girls day and the occasional free workshop for girls.

‘Because we work so much with schools, we really see how interested the girls are, how excited about the work they are. Their gender is not the reason why they aren’t participating. With boys, I notice that parents will enroll him for everything, but with the girls they are a bit more hesitant. They don’t trust this interest somehow.’

When asked whether she thinks that the future will see coding integrated into the curriculum in Germany, Julia smiles. ‘It’s a hard question’, she admits. ‘I think what students should get is a basic understanding of what’s needed to program. There are a lot of languages and they don’t need to learn all of them, but I think what’s important for our society is that they know the processes behind the technology. Because otherwise, you are just a passive user.’

The primary goal for Julia is that technology is seen as a method to enhance the education process, rather than a distraction or danger. ‘It is important that we use technology as a tool for learning and teaching’, she asserts. ‘There is a lot of potential there and I think we should open ourselves up to it.’ Demystifying digital tools also helps to empower kids to understand their limits. When you have a good understanding of what technology can do, you also get a better understanding of what it can’t do, or shouldn’t do.

‘It is important that we use technology as a tool for learning and teaching.’

In terms of future plans, Julia says that Digitalwerkstatt has so many new ideas that they can hardly keep up. One of them, she says, is expanding their reach to schools further away. For this, they are working on a bus that can travel to schools in Brandenburg, and which would serve as the classroom for the workshops. Outside of that, the team itself is constantly trying to learn new things, keep up on trends, and integrate new technology into their process. ‘With everything we do, we learn’, says Julia. ‘After two years, we know a lot more than we knew then, but it’s a process.’

It’s 3.15pm and the children are gathered around the projector once again, this time with their parents at their side. The teachers give a final presentation of what their students have done this week, complete with a dynamic video showing all the projects in process. Then it’s time for the kids to receive their certificates, and the room erupts into applause as the students march, one by one, to retrieve their awards. They’ve completed a week of digital adventures, and realised a series of inventive projects. And maybe, in addition to that, they’ve taken another step towards becoming one of the technical visionaries of the future.

For more information on Digitalwerkstatt visit their website.

x解碼未来: 数码工作坊正赋与下一代权力



Alison Rhoades


Valentina Culley-Foster




数码工作坊正准备的工作是世界倡议的一部分,其目标让孩子们从小就开始学习程序编写。 美国总统奥巴马曾著名的讽刺说:别只会买视频游戏,自己来创造一个!”Code.orgGirls Who Code等许多组织,只是为推动下一代数字素养的一小部分。还无法阅读、写字的幼儿,其玩具中甚至发现能教他们编辑基本原理的玩具。但这只是好玩的游戏吗? 如果我们不确定他们在映射编程概念时是否如算数时那般流畅,那么我们是在危害孩子吗? 当科技在日常生活中变得越见普及,那些缺乏基本计算器素养的人在未来经济体系会被淘汰吗?


当我们一同挤在孩童的小椅子上时,朱利亚说: “我们必须要教育孩子为未知的未来做准备。目前,我们正教导他们一个或许当前已不复存在的现实,但这是我们未来会做的工作,未来那会是甚么我们仍毫无头绪。

数码工作坊是孩子们的乐园,里面有色彩鲜明的家具、互动性玩具、美术用品、墙上或柜子上的美术手工作品。 孩子们用名为Scratch的系统正着手制作动画狗,系统是由麻省理工媒体实验室的终身幼儿集团(Lifelong Kindergarten Goup)所开发而成,旨在帮助孩子学习基本程序编码。下一步,朱利亚向我们展示学员们制作的机器人,由计算器零件组成的硬件对象。那天早上,他们举办 6岁到7岁的亲子工作坊。她笑着说: “这里呢,父母和孩子们一同学习父母花时间与孩子们一起做些甚么,实在非常重要。



Verena Pausder两年前成立数码工作坊,与巴伐利亚玩具公司HABA合作,打造了一个专为教导孩子基本数码科技素养的组织。与HABA的关系意味着,与其每两年申请拨款或花宝贵时间募款,数码工作坊的时间能百分百投入在孩子身上。朱利亚说: “我们目标是可以自我生存,显然的这不会是棵摇钱树,但那不是重点。

虽然他们没有许多分店,但组织正迅速成长中。他们试验性计划在柏林揭开序幕,位于Linienstraße 和脸书在柏林的数码学习中心。 柏林成立一年后,他们在慕尼黑开了分店,随后也在汉堡、法兰克福和利普施塔特各开分店。





朱利亚也负责建立由教师、游戏设计师、编码家、教育家和文化学者组成的数码工作坊团队。她解释: “雇用教导员实在特别困难,因为他们除须具备技术上能力,同时也能将这些技术传授给年轻孩子。


柏林的固定团队中包含了五位成员和几名自由职业者。 她笑着说:“根据我的经验,拥有一个致力于打造事业的团队真的很棒。


几乎不意外的是,教孩子学习计算器程序最近成了一种趋势。包含比尔盖兹内的许多专家,预言未来的就业市场前景黯淡,断言机器人和计算器程序将可取代多数人仰赖的工作。工厂的工作和顾客服务已开始受到冲击,交通运输业可能是下一波的受害者。根据纽约杂志报导,到2020年,科技产业将会增加一百万以上的职位。许多人认为,给孩子们学习编码语言就可让他们在数码世界中游刃有余,就是给他们一个更好的未来。毕竟, 在一个充满机器人的世界里,仍需要人类先给它们进行边写程序,不是吗?


他写计算思维” “教你如何用分解方式成一系列较容易管理的小问题来面对大问题。如同戏剧课里改善沟通技巧一样,科学也帮助我们了解周遭世界的奇妙,也许学习编码能让我们成为更好、更有效率的思考者。

城市如纽约,希望在10年内能为每位学童提供编码班,国家如爱沙尼亚和澳大利亚已开始将它编入国家教育必修课程。但德国在跟随教育科技方面的趋势着实慢了许多,有部分是来自经费问题,学校仰赖地方政府的预算,但这也是文化和世代人的问题。 朱利亚承认说:“尤其在德国对科技的态度是保守的。”然而有时候是教师不具备 “如何将科技整合到课堂上”该有的培训。德国的世代差距和过去旧时代模拟式教育文凭意味着老师,或许能接受新的想法,但缺乏将其带给学生的能力。

由于这个原因,数码工作坊也为教师提供训练,教导员可与他们的同事或单独前来学习这个前卫的教学工具,以帮助他们的学生用最新且令人兴奋的学习方式来吸收新知。朱利亚解释着,这不只是给老师们使用新的计算器或平板,而是训练他们如何更有效率的去使用: “有时候你见到学校有完善的计算器设备但却不懂得如何使用,你需要一个该如何利用它的概念和计划。

大家都知道,花太多时间在电视机前面对孩童的脑部有不良的影响,但多数专家同意 只要监控孩童使用平板或计算器就对其无害。再来,不可否认的是,孩童成长过程中,未来将会看到科技日新月异的变化,表示他们越早掌握使用技术以及限制越好。朱利亚同意“禁止它是没有意义的,当然你需要一些规范和协议,但我们无法避免这项话题,我们让学生 符合年龄的学习去面对数码世界,因为藉由面对它,会产生问题,我们去讨论它,而有了经验,这是让你获得信心的方式,学习知道自己的界线在哪里。这并非天生就有的,你需要去学习。”


很容易看出孩子们多么喜爱他们在数码工作坊的体验,正面反馈多的目不暇接。朱利亚惊呼着:  ‘我经常听到有人说这是我人生最好的一天!”’虽然她的工作需要长时间且耗费许多精力, 但有令人振奋的故事填满了她一周的工作时间是甚为值得的。

“几周前,有个常来我们这上课的女孩要求我们让她自己开一堂课给朋友上。她妈妈说教导员可以在但只是当作支持! 当然我们同意了,我感到这非常鼓舞人心,因为这是我们所希望的: 让孩子们有信心并且展示他们能做的事。



当问到朱利亚对未来德国是否会整合编码到学校课程中时,朱利亚笑了,她承认说: “这是个难回答的问题,我认为学生该学的是需要甚么才能编写程序基础概念。有许多的程序语言,他们不用全部都学,但我认为对我们社会最重要的是让他们理解科技背后的过程。不然的话,你只是一个被动使用着。

朱利亚的主要目标是将科技视为一种加强教育学习过程的方式,而不是扰乱或危害。 她说:“我们用科技来当学习和教学的一种工具,这仍有许多浅力,我认为我们要持开放态度去面对。解密数码的工具有助于让孩子了解他们的极限。当你对科技能做甚么有充分的认知后,你也会更能理解它不能做甚么、或它不应该做的。


对未来的计划,朱利亚说数码工作坊有许多他们跟不上的新想法。她说其中之一是将合作学校范围扩大到更远的地方。 关于这点,他们正与能开到布兰登堡地区学校的公交车合作,公交车上将可作为研讨会的教室。除此之外,团队本身也不断的尝试学习新事物、跟上潮流,并将新科技整合到他们的流程中。 朱利亚说:“我们在做的每件事,同时也学习着。两年后,我们学到的比过去还要多,这就是过程。

下午315分,孩子们又再度聚集到幻灯片屏幕前,这次多了父母在身旁。老师做最后报告 他们的学生这周做了甚么,并附上了动态视频展示了所有进行中的企划案。然后是孩子们收到证书的时候,当学生一个接一个走上前领证时,房间爆满了掌声。他们完成了为期一周的数码冒险,并学到一系列的创造性项目,或许此外,对他们未来成为科技梦想家又迈进了一步。

更多数码工作坊信息请参阅官网: Digital Werkstatt

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