My daughter and I have been having fun with the latest Kano computer and coding kit, which comes with a screen. It's powered by a Raspberry Pi, a small Linux computer, and was created to allow kids to make games, music, and art through coding.
The operating system is already installed and comes with a bunch of fun applications and games, like Scratch and Minecraft. It has built in wifi and a Chromium web browser, and the small orange wireless keyboard has a touch pad. It plays YouTube videos and you could probably get away with using it as an everyday computer.
To "build" the Kano, you follow the simple, well designed instructions to snap pieces together. The manual describes the function of each component as you go along. Once you put it together, plug it in and you'll be taken on a candy-colored tour of Kano-land, where you can create an avatar and sign up for an account on Kano, so you can complete quests (like customizing a Pong game with a Scratch-like program called Kano blocks), and share and download your creations. There's a game called Terminal Quest that teaches Linux commands as "spells" to make things happen.
Check out Kano's Make Art website to give you an idea of what Kano's coding environment is like.
The Screen Kit is a 10" LDC 1280 x 800 display that's crisp and bright. You don't need the screen to use a Kano. If you want you can buy the basic Kano kit and plug it into any HD display. Read the rest
I had a chance to play with a Cubetto recently. It's a little, wooden, happy face robot on two wheels. You can control which way it goes by inserting colorful plastic chips on programming board (which also has a wood top). There are four kinds of chips: turn clockwise, turn counterclockwise, move forward, and call subroutine. You unfold a mat with a grid of colorful squares and illustrations and set the robot on top of it. An included booklet presents challenges to move the robot from one square on the grid to another.
My wife, 13-year-daughter, and I are not the intended users of Cubetto, but we spent a very fun hour going through the challenges in the booklet and then coming up with our own challenges. My guess is that a kindergartner or pre=schooler would love this and learn a lot from it.
The overall product design is gorgeous, too. I wish the manufacturer, Primo, made consumer technology for grown-ups.
Confession: I know nothing – NOTHING – about coding. I’m still stuck in the glory days of the “if/thens” of my original Apple IIe, circa 1983. And I barely knew how to do anything past whatever I copied verbatim from Byte. I never got that right either. I don’t think. Ever. I remember staying up all night to do a Thundercats hi-res game. Tried to run it at 4am. Nothing. No Lion-O, no Cheetarah, no Snarf... NOTHING. Thus began a life of failure. BUT. I did not want my kids to suffer that same fate. Especially because it is now a presidential mandate that all kids must learn to code. And code they shall.
Kano is built on a simple idea: If kids can piece together Legos, then why not a whole computer? So they not only have a tactile experience in the building of the thing, but more importantly, they take ownership. Have a hands on experiece with their computer, and know it inside and out. My kids opened the cleverly packaged Kano box and had their machines up and running in about 45 minutes. The directions are sort of similar to Lego directions. Very simple, very easy to understand, and I’ll be damned... these boys, ages 7 and 9, were coding within the hour.
The computer itself comes with a Rasberry Pi brain, all the necessary cables, a keyboard, instructions and stickers to personalize the experience. It comes loaded with a bunch of different apps: Minecraft, Scratch, hack old school Pong, hack Snake, and many other great things, all with an eye towards hacking, coding and exploring. Read the rest
In this beginner friendly book, called Learn to Program with Minecraft, you will learn how to do cool things in Minecraft using the Python programming language. No prior programming experience is needed. Author Craig Richardson shows you how to install Python (it's free) on your Mac, PC, or Raspberry Pi. The book has step-by-step instructions to show you how to teleport your character, create palaces and other structures with a few lines of code, stack blocks, duplicate villages and geography, and a lot more.
You're probably familiar with Scratch, the introductory programming language that allows kids (and adults) to create interactive stories, games, and animations. Scratch doesn't require lines of code to write programs. Instead, you build programs by snapping together colored blocks. (My book, Maker Dad, has an introduction to Scratch that shows how to make retro-style video games).
Scratch is perfect for kids 8 and up. Recently, MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Lab announced the release of ScratchJr, an even simpler programming language for young children (ages 5-7) to create interactive stories and games. It's free and runs on iPads and Android tablets.
Mitchel Resnick, who runs MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Lab, and Marina Umaschi Bers, a professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University, have a new book out called, The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code. The publisher sent me a copy, and it looks like a great way for parents to learn about ScratchJr so they can get their kids up to speed and let them go off on their own. With full color screenshots on every page, it provides a thorough overview of everything ScratchJr is capable of doing. Read the rest