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Smart Watches, Smart Phones, Smart Socks, Smart Bras: How about Smart Children?

Tech Fanboy Corner

"Smart" is an epithet bandied about with abandon these days. There is Smart Margarine, and, what truly must be an oxymoron: Smart TV. If hackers can hack a "smart toilet," then the "smart lighting" in your "smart home" is child’s play. There is a new educational technology journal: Smart Learning Environments. Kraft has the Smart Pork-Pasta Toss recipe. And of course, we must have "smart insurance" if we have "smart cars" running on "smart roads." Not stopping with just "smart", IBM uses its comparative form: IBM has the Smarter Planet initiative. In fact, just type "smart" into Google with almost any other word and you will find something! Try it: how about "smart banana" — yes there is a thing called "smart banana!"

Excuse us, but ... how about making our children smart or, better yet, smarter? Yes, there are "About 731,000,000 results" from Google for "smart children" — three-quarters of a billion hits on the Internet for "smart children." With all that information it sounds like it should be an easy thing, then ... to make children smart.

Yeah right!

In 2010 we already predicted that each and every student in each and every grade will have a mobile learning device (MLD) by 2015 to use 24/7 for curricular purposes, so it’s time to make another wild-eyed prediction:

By 2018, five years from now, our children will be wearing smart socks, smart underwear and looking through smart glasses (okay, smart contacts), carrying smart lunch boxes, reading from smart books, talking to smart friends through their smart MLDs, etc., etc.

The Internet was a big disrupter. Mobile, it could be argued, has been (and still continues to be) an even bigger disrupter. (Just ask all the folks in Africa, Asia, India and South America who have never been connected ... but are now.)

But, smart socks and smart bras are the tippy-tip-tip of a Milky Way-galaxy-sized iceberg.

Powering all those smart things are tiny, cheap sensors that capture temperature, time, location, humidity, acidity, and lactosity (we made that up; sounds like it should be word, though). And, all those sensors are linked into The Internet of Things.

There are roughly 2 billion traditional computers in the world; there are roughly 7 billion cell phones — about one for every human on Earth. But "With a Trillion Sensors, the Internet of Things Would Be the "Biggest Business in the History of Electronics." Those 1 trillion sensors + The Internet of Things will be a bigger disrupter than even mobile.

Back to making our children smart ... smarter.

Drum roll please: Now for a second, new wild-eyed prediction:

While for the last 50+ years folks like us have been predicting the dramatic change of education owing to technology, and we have been wrong, wrong, wrong, this time, with the coming of the sensors and the Internet of Things, this time the prediction will come true.

The teaching and learning of science, for example, will be fundamentally and irrevocably changed. Using MBL — Micro-computer-based labs — students will use scientific instruments such as a temperature probe, a CO₂ probe, a turbidity probe, etc. that are connected to a computer to collect data about the world around them. For once, there is already unassailable, empirical evidence that the use of MBL leads to students’ improved science achievement. Well, with the trillion sensors and the Internet of Things, we have MBL on steroids!

Teach all of science from the perspective of monitoring one’s own health, for example. Or, teach all of science from the perspective of ecological monitoring. One thing for sure, we need no longer teach science the way we are currently doing it. Indeed, those science educators who have worked so hard on the Next-Generation Science Standards can’t wait for that sensor + Internet of Things technology; using that technology will enable the kind of teaching and learning of science that will help our children meet the challenges of the NGSS.

Oops! We should have said: We will no longer teach science the way we are currently doing it. In five years, the push of technology plus the pull of parents and kids and science educators will force science education on a national basis, not just in a few select schools, to change. You can take that prediction too — to the bank!

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at