Tag Archives: programming

Kids Coding at Silicon Valley Code Camp

SVCC

Silicon Valley Code Camp is an awesome, free, 2-day event where thousands of programmers and would-be-programmers gather to learn more about development related topics. Beyond just programming languages, methods, and algorithms, there may be classes on

  • legal issues,
  • branding and marketing,
  • managing developers,
  • user interfaces,
  • interview skills,
  • and hardware platforms such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

Mobile application development is usually a popular topic and there have been classes covering various business and development aspects of mobile apps.

SVCC by and for

It’s an event were “developers learn from fellow developers” and anyone is welcome to submit sessions for consideration. So the list of classes varies each year and the the level of experience varies between each class. Some are lectures and others are hands-on. There are people with lots of teaching experience, some with subject matter expertise who may not be the most effective educators, and others who are pretty green and standing up in front of a class for the first time. However, the atmosphere on campus overall is very positive and you’re bound to learn something!

The camp takes place at Foothill College, has been running since 2006, and saw almost 3,000 attendees in 2014.

Kids Trackbinary code 1 200x283

Last year, I narrowed my focus and there were only a coupe of classes in which I was interested, but our schedules didn’t line up. I was happy to discover that they had a kids track added and I registered Kaiden. Apparently there have been kids sessions every year, but in 2014 they organized it more and put kids in their own area.

In order to sign up a kid for a session, you must

  • Create a separate SV Code Camp account (login) for each kid
  • Assign a guardian to the kid
  • Make a minimum $25 donation to SVCC Giving

Setup

There were two back-to-back sessions on Scratch programming staring with a basic class and then a more advanced lesson. We arrived a little later than expected, but before the class was scheduled to start – and the room was packed! There were no empty imagineear.com/pharmacy/ seats and people were sitting on the platform at the back of the room and others were even sitting on the floor!

One of the parents at the back saw me scanning the room for a seat and quickly mentioned that there were parents sitting in chairs and I should ask them to move. So we got Kaiden a seat quickly and got our laptop set up while I crouched beside him. It was annoying that even after multiple announcements, some parents sat in their chairs at the front of the room partially blocking the view of kids behind them. Eventually, the ignorant adults made way for the children.

Scratch

Kaiden had played with Scratch a couple of time before. We had gone through a few introductory lessons and then he created his own custom program called Lightning Blue Cat. So much of the session ended up being a bit slow for him, but that just meant that we had some opportunity to add extra functionality or browse through various sprites.

The class was fairly-well organized and taught with enough assistants walking around to provide 1-on-1 help with setup or coding issues.

SVCC Coding
Concentrating…

 

SVCC Screen
Our view of the big screen

 

We would have loved to stay for the next, more advanced session, but like most of the other kids there, it was a long session and we needed a long break! Most of the room cleared out and I didn’t see too many more kids trickling in. Hopefully at the next camp they will run the beginner and advanced Scratch sessions with a good break in between, but still on the same day, so kids can eat and run around before going back to coding.

Either way, we’ll definitely be there!

SVCC Class 600
End of the session and time for a break!

 

SVCC Badges 600
A popular spot for parent-kid pictures

 

Robot Programming for Young Kids

Children learn from their parents (including things they weren’t meant to learn until later) and their exposure to various topics is largely a function of their parents interests. So for Kaiden, one of the things that meant was some exposure to electronics and robotics.

He would sit on my lap at my workbench and ask a million questions, or was it 4 questions a quarter million times each? Once he learned a little, he would make requests to see a small drawer full of capacitors or resistors (boring) or switches.

He was interested in the robotics and I promised that one day I would teach him to build and program his own robot since he had an unlimited supply of ideas about how many LEDs his robot would have, what colors they would be, and whether he preferred tracks or wheels or legs on particular robots.
Most institutions and most parents are really not sure at what age kids can or should be doing various tasks and robot programming for young kids is no exception. My goal was to get him started whenever he was ready and interested. The interest was apparent so to get him ready I planned to continue helping Kaiden with his reading (more on this later) and basic math and logic so that he would have a foundation from which to start.

robot block party

I took a couple of hours off one afternoon to take Kaiden to the Stanford Robot Block Party (now the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party) which is organized as part of the U.S. National Robotics Week. It’s an awesome, annual, free event that lets robotics geeks do their thing and gets everyone else excited about the possibilities. We had a great time seeing all the robots and demonstrations, from cheap homemade robots to Willow Garage’s PR-2 and the da Vinci Si surgical system!

Read more about the block party here: Silicon Valley Robot Block Party 2014

Somewhere in between all that robot madness, we discovered a little robot named Thymio II.

Thymio is an open hardware and open source software project. It’s a compact, sturdy, 2-wheeled robot packed with features. It has lots of sensors, including several proximity sensors (5 on the front, 2 at the back, 2 facing downward for edge detection), a 3-axis accelerometer, 5 capacitive touch buttons, a microphone, an IR receiver for remote control, and a temperature sensor! Lots of lights for visual output, 39 LEDs in total, pharmacy-no-rx.net plus a 3-bar battery level display and a speaker.

Thymio II
Thymio II

The most attractive aspect for me, a parent of a three-year-old, was the visual programming environment. It’s bright, colorful, and not overly complex so kids can focus on the programming task.

visual programming language
Aseba Studio’s Visual Programming Language

The most technical prerequisite for using this programming environment is the ability to use a mouse or trackpad and while he had not done much on the computer prior to this, he picked it up quickly. Next on the agenda was an explanation of events and actions (input/output) and an overview of the interface and how to create the program. All of this took about 10 minutes and it took another 15 minutes to get him to stop asking me if every move he made was correct. Once he saw the results of his first program, for which he made all the decisions, it was even more fun!

With so many other projects, toys, and interests, we haven’t played with Thymio as much as I would have liked, but Thymio makes an appearance occasionally.

The software is continually being upgraded and as of December 2013, the new firmware (version 7) allows Thymio robots to communicate with each other which is very cool.

Looking forward, I don’t think this platform works well for making the transition to programming in other environments. The VPL is nice in that it’s simple to use and can do some more advanced functions since it even has a state machine. You also get to see the code generated for any change to the visual interface; however, that code is a big leap from the pure graphical interface. I believe that the next step should be something like Scratch or 12 Blocks which combines the visual aspect with the code structure that then translates more easily into pure code. I’ll write more about 12 Blocks, Scratch, Tynker, and some other programming options in the coming months. The most important message I can deliver is this: never listen to anyone, including educators, if they tell you that kids should start at age X. Listen to your kid.

For now, he’s still enjoying Thymio, but this was every bit as fun for me to stand back and watch as it was for Kaiden to do!

build
Build
test
Test
celebrate
Celebrate!