A new build-it-yourself hardware project from internet giant Google could be among the best platforms for teaching children how to code.
With their Project Bloks, Google aims to use something it calls ‘tangible programming’ to teach the next generation how to code. The research project will create an open hardware platform that developers, designers and researchers can use to provide kids with a fun and accessible introduction to the principles of coding.
Targeted at young children over the age of five, the system aims to appeal to children to learn through hands-on play in the same way that they might with Lego or building blocks.
One of the project’s collaborators, Paulo Blikstein from Stanford University said: “One of the big things about teaching kids how to programme is that they can express ideas that they would not be able to express otherwise.
“Young kids they learn by being social by being collaborative by playing with things by exploring with their hands. Taking what’s natural to them and adding a new skill such as computing and programming, I think we’ll have the best of both worlds.”
Miles Berry, a computing education lecturer at the University of Roehampton suggests that, by taking programming education away from computers, teachers might be able to get children more engaged by the lessons.
He said: “I think if one moves away from the screen and keyboard coding its far easier for young people to work collaboratively and working collaboratively to solve problems is what happens in the real world.”
Others believe the system can help kids learn some of the more practical skills that developers need.
Sheena Vaidyanathan, a teacher in California said: “I think when you learn to code I think the biggest skill kids learn is persistence they learn that something doesn’t work out but you can quickly fix it and try it again in different ways.
“With the ability to stay with it and keep working. That joy you get when you actually solve the problem, I’ve heard it in my classroom that yes it works.”
The hardware system is composed of three separate elements that children can put together to put together to complete different functions.
First there’s a larger ‘Brain Board’ powered by a Raspberry Pi computer which lets it connect to other devices through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
As well as tablet and laptop computers, the Brain Board will also link up with toys and educational devices like the Microbot, the Wi-Fi drawing robot for children.
The system also incorporates ‘Base Boards’ which connect to each other and provide platforms for the third element, the ‘Pucks’. Probably named because they look a bit like ice hockey pucks, these icons, switches, sensors and dials form the commands for the system.
Although Google clearly have a house style for their Pucks, the system is such that they can be made from any material and in any style. In future, Google anticipates that developers will be able to print their own 3D components to operate systems.
The openness also applies to the developer platform, which is filled with creative possibilities for programmers that want to offer great coding experiences and help them learn more. The open platform can also be used by teachers with less coding experience.
All photos courtesy of Google, Youtube.