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September 10, 2017

How do you get kids into coding? Tynker and Parrot let them use it to fly drones

by John_A

As drone prices continue to drop, the popularity of the flying devices has yet to wane. Couple this love of remote-controlled flying with the desperate need of today’s kids to pursue careers with STEM (science, technology, English and math) skills, and two companies saw a unique opportunity. Educational software maker Tynker has partnered with drone maker Parrot to combine drones with programming education in multiple ways, allowing both schools and parents at home to teach kids to code through drones.

Srinivas Mandyam, Tynker co-founder and CTO, said its software is equipped with a comprehensive school coding solution that makes it easy to integrate computer programming into any classroom with grade-specific programming courses. More than 60,000 schools teach programming using Tynker.

“The school curriculum is built for educators, with no previous programming experience needed,” Mandyam said. “Kids ages seven and up can start learning Tynker’s block-based coding language, then move up to Swift, JavaScript and Python. Tynker helps educators automatically assess student skills, create multiple ‘classrooms,’ easily import students and see useful metrics.”

“The school curriculum is built for educators, with no previous programming experience needed”

Mandyam noticed that many schools were looking at drones as way of teaching robotics in Makerspaces. Factor in kids’ fascination with flying and the low cost of Parrot drones like the Mambo MiniDrone, and this partnership was born. Tynker software works exclusively with Parrot drones, including the Mambo, Swing, Airborne Night, Airborne Cargo, Jumping Race, Jumping Night, Jumping Sumo and Rolling Spider. And thanks to a new $150 consumer bundle that includes the Mambo Minidrone and a six-month subscription to the Tynker platform, it takes this educational element out of the classroom and into the home.

“With this partnership, instead of having kids use pre-made remote controllers, we created a flight simulator course where kids can virtually program a drone from their tablet,” Mandyam explained. “The same code works on real drones, allowing kids to apply their code right in front of their eyes. The pairing of Tynker and Parrot has already been a big hit with students and teachers.”

Jerome Bouvard, director of Parrot education, said the Mambo Minidrone offers a variety of impressive features, tricks and maneuvers that encourage imagination and creativity during play.

“These are a perfect fit for Tynker’s coding platform,” Bouvard explained. “Through Tynker, these tricks and functions become commands that children can use in a new way to create and solve problems.”

Through the many years of working in education, Mandyam learned that kids thrive off of hands-on play, so coding their own drone to do whatever they please is truly fun for them. As an added bonus, it also allows children to get outside and stay active, bringing the positive benefits of traditional play back into educational tech.

“Parents can rest easy knowing their kids are playing with an educational toy that teaches them crucial STEM skills that will help boost their computational and problem solving skills,” Mandyam added. “Because kids of all ages enjoy flying drones, this bundle presents a great opportunity for families to spend time learning together.”

Tynker’s platform was designed around gamified, block-based coding language, which Mandyam said targets kids as young as seven years old through an education tactic they can easily grasp. Tynker can also be easily integrated into popular games like Minecraft, where kids can explore coding through yet another vertical.

“Once kids fully grasp Tynker’s language, they can seamlessly move up to learn Swift, JavaScript and Python within the Tynker platform,” Mandyam explained. “This allows for uninterrupted learning. More importantly, at each step of the way, kids are creating fully functional programs such as games, interactive stories, robot controllers, and Minecraft games that are fun for them.”

“The same code works on real drones, allowing kids to apply their code right in front of their eyes.”

Just a year after the launch of its Parrot education program, Bouvard has seen more than 400 schools in North America integrate Parrot products in their curriculum.

“K-12 educators are using this technology to get students interested in STEM, robotics and engineering,” Bouvard added.

Now what begins in the classroom can continue at home, giving a much different meaning to that dreaded word, “homework.”

“With our interest-based learning approach, we hope to inform kids everywhere that learning about STEM can and should be fun and attainable by all,” Mandyam said. “We absolutely encourage girls to take part in this education, just as much as we encourage boys to. This is the first time Tynker is bundled with a physical toy, which opens up an entire new world of possibilities.”

Mandyam said building a childhood interest in STEM has long-term benefits; given that the IT skills gap between available IT jobs and employees to fill them is projected to reach 1 million by 2020, an interest in STEM could very well translate into a job down the line.

Drones also tap into the current focus to attract more girls at a very young age to pursue STEM learning and develop the skills needed in today’s booming technology sectors.

“The gender gap in regards to women vs. men working in STEM is still quite large,” Mandyam admitted. “With this, kids are still being raised in environments where it’s not as common to see female leaders in tech. It takes extra effort to expose kids (both girls and boys) to the ideology that anyone and everyone can, in fact, be in this industry. Luckily, we are seeing more organizations pop up to encourage kids to become more involved in STEM, in addition to consumer-friendly products such as our bundle. Products like our bundle make programming less abstract and therefore more attractive to kids, making it an especially effective way to teach kids STEM concepts.”

Combining computing, drones and education may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s the first time these things have been bundled in such a way that “homework” takes on a whole new meaning for parents and kids.

Want to get your kids into coding? Digital Trends has a rounded up the top STEM toys for kids, plus 5 of the best learn-to-code apps.




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