Compared to the familiar ROM BASIC of my family’s second-hand Commodore 64, the HyperTalk language seemed clunky and comically verbose. And yet there was something magical, something oddly enthralling about Hypercard as a whole. The ease with which a mostly-blank screen could be turned into an interactive, living, breathing graphical toy of my own creation was astounding, exhilarating, and addictive.
Bryan Lunduke, author of Linux for Hank an children’s introduction Linux, has posted a great article discussing the various Linux distributions aimed at children. The timing is great as the Kano Kickstarter that packages up the Raspberry Pi with a child friendly OS has just hit $450k in four days – it’s target goal of $100k was obliterated within about 16 hours!
With my daughter nearing 3 years old, the topic of “how best to introduce a young kid to computers” has been on my mind a great deal. And since my home (and work) computing life revolves around Linux, the ideal is to introduce her to the wide, wonderful world of Linux and Open Source.
This is Zac. He loves Jake and the Neverland Pirates. I gave him a Raspberry Pi today and we’re going to mash them up!
He’s almost 4 and we’re going to turn his room into a treasure Island adventure with his Raspberry Pi.
Zac loves Jake and the Neverland pirates so I thought it would be fun to use the Pi in his room to create an interactive treasure map on his wall – one that changes the location of the treasure each time he plays!
I’ll document what we’re building over the next few weeks, the how to diagrams and of course any source code we write.
In the meantime feel free to ask any questions on twitter @danfbridge
Today I took our group of 20 girls to see how the Raspberry Pi is made at the Sony Pencoed facility in South Wales. Which, luckily for us is literally down the road. Must to say that Sony and the team that showed us around were absolutely fantastic!
Quick stat: They make 30,000 Pi’s a week – and when demand is high have gone up to 60,000!
This was the youngest group of visitors they’d had and were really excited to see such an enthusiastic all girl group. After the past 5 weeks of working with them, it was a real treat to hear them talking about CPU’s, Memory and Programs as I pointed out bits of circuitry to them!
It’s a bit Clarkson by numbers, which I think was the point, but there are valid points in there and it got me thinking about both sides of the argument. This a good thing.
We are picking up where we left off in the 1980’s in the way we introduce technology to our children – see Nesta’s Legacy of the BBC Micro report. It makes sense to continually evaluate it and make sure it’s right for them and not just right for election campaigns.
The specific aspect that’s feeding the articles comes from the misapplication, or misinterpretation, of Computing for Programming. It’s easy to see why as code is the “stuff” that makes a Computer do something. There’s a good parallel here with being able to read and write musical notation and its composition.
Code is often not the only end product of a lot of design, thinking and problem solving. The valuable end product is often not the code but the data it subsequently produces and increasingly in large volumes aka big data. Being able to understand, manipulate and secure it is important and that’s not the same thing as programming. This is why it’s important to see that being able to write code is really useful but:
Computing is not programming.
Programming is a part of Computing but there’s a lot more to the area of Computing than just instructing a machine with code. It’s also about other aspects such security, privacy, Internet architecture, distributed service and how this affects our social, commercial and global communication.
Computing, as far as we’re concerned as parents and consumers, is largely about the application and use of technology to make things easier for us e.g. receiving an email/photo to the other side of the world in seconds rather than waiting days for a letter, ordering consumables, etc
Academically, Computing exists to solve problems that are too large or too time consuming for our poor old monkey brains to handle – which is usually anything to do with large amounts of data and numbers. e.g. forecasting weather, analysing massive amounts of data from the Large Hadron collisions at CERN, or helping architects develop safer structures through modelling.
Speaking of monkey brains ,this is really the point of why it’s important Computing as subject needs to be taught from a young age in schools:
Humans are tool users and the Computer is the most advanced and useful tool we have.
We are all taught from a young age to use a fork and knife, but not all of us will be surgeons. I know, it’s a trite example (and I’m certainly not saying programmers are the surgeons of Computing – that’s UI designers for me 😉 but you get the jist, Computing is learning to use a tool and it’s not just about coding.
Here’s a real example:
I worked as a Software Engineer at Reuters in a small R&D team that programmed the Reuters Business Briefing products for web. When I say a small team, although there were only 3 programmers the real team was much larger. Working with us was a team of branding experts, User Interface designers, SQA testers, System Administrators, enterprise network architects, operations deployment engineers and product managers.
If you read back that roll call that worked to deliver what became an award winning product, the number of people writing code was pretty small.
The majority of the jobs on a technical project were clearly not programming. Though, if you talk to the majority of programmers they’d tell you that they’re doing most of the work. But we’re slightly biased!
This is where the educational aspect of Computing beyond coding can have a real impact. There are many great, interesting, important, jobs building products that don’t involve any coding. But what they all need is a solid understanding of Computing.
Why? Because if the research is correct, the next 7 years will see a massive amount of opportunity for our children if they’ve got the correct skills.
Brett Victor, Edward Tufte and Seymour Papert stimulate much of our current thinking around the tools we’re making for children.
This is his latest talk, set some 40 years ago, and is a brilliantly comic take on why our current programming languages have gone backwards. Which means we’re not making the most of these incredible computing machines we have at our disposal. Anyway, hit play and let him explain…