After a bit of a slow start, the BBC’s mini computer, the Micro:bit, has now made its way to more than one million children across the UK. Designed to help bridge the computing skills gap and inspire more children to take up coding, the credit card-sized board has enjoyed support from some of the biggest names in technology including Samsung, Microsoft and ARM. With their help, the BBC confirmed today that the Micro:bit is going on a worldwide tour, thanks to the formation of a new non-profit called the Micro:bit Educational Foundation.
Sinead Rocks, Head of BBC Learning, explains that the Micro:bit was never meant to be a “flash in the pan.” The Micro:bit Educational Foundation, much like the Raspberry Pi Foundation, exists to foster the development of maker culture, offering low-cost computing to people who would not normally engage in such projects. Now, the money made from the board will go towards sustaining the seven-person company, allowing it to focus on expanding sales of the Micro:bit to other countries.
According to Zach Shelby, the Foundation’s new chief, the organization will expand sales of the Micro:bit across Europe and build Norwegian and Dutch version of its coding tools to boost demand. Next year, the Foundation will look beyond to North America and China, targeting bigger markets with an upgraded version of the hardware.
Despite all the phones and tablets out there, Texas Instruments’ graphing calculators continue to survive. The company’s latest classroom tool even turns them into a device that can teach kids coding and engineering. TI-Innovator Hub plugs into the company’s graphing calculators a lot of middle- and high-school students already have. It’s a palm-sized board with a microcontroller that gives kids a way to build simple engineering projects. They could make LEDs light up, play notes or make small toys move by plugging the components into the hub and writing a program on the calculator.
It transforms TI’s calculator into a pretty cool toy, and based on the video below, it looks like kids find it fun. “Before, I really wasn’t interested in what programming was. But after I started working with the Innovator, it was like a whole new world was opened,” one eighth grader named Jasmine Jones-Pas said. As a nice plus, it’s enclosed in a durable case, since the hub was designed for kids. The bad news is you can’t get one for yourself — it’s not out for sale online or in retail stores and is only available from instructional product dealers.
Source: Texas Instruments
There are lots of initiatives to teach kids how to code, including ventures from Google, Minecraft and even the Star Wars franchise. However, with Swift Playground, Apple is actually prepping kids for a potential career at, well, Apple. The company has announced that the app, based on the Swift language used for iOS, OS X, WatchOS, tvOS and Linux, will arrive alongside iOS 10 tomorrow (September 13th).
As Engadget’s Nicole Lee discovered during a hands-on, it’s actually a nice way way to learn programming. It assumes that kids have zero knowledge, but produces actual Swift code that can be used to develop real apps. At the same time, it’s open-ended — young coders learn in a non-linear way, so enthusiastic kids can skip ahead if they want. It rewards students regardless of the quality of code, but gives extra kudos for well-optimized solutions.
Apple says there are over 100 schools and districts teaching the app this fall in the US, Europe and Africa. Apple will also offer its own “Get Started with Coding” workshops that will show the basics of Swift Playgrounds. It’ll also offer a drop-in hour for folks who want extra help with “challenging puzzles” in the app. If you want to get a head start on your kids (you’re gonna need it), the workshops and drop-in sessions will be available at select stores in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, UAE, Netherlands and Hong Kong.
It can be pretty expensive to attend coding bootcamps even if you make a decently comfortable living. The U.S. Department of Education is looking to change this, launching a new initiative that’ll help eligible low-income students pay for them using federal financial aid.
The Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) initiative will allow students to apply for financial aid at one of eight different coding bootcamps in addition to online and employer-provided programs.
The eight programs are scattered throughout the country, including partnerships between Epicodus and Marylhurt University, MakerSquare and the University of Texas-Austin and SUNY Empire State Colllege and The Flatiron School. While these programs are good alternatives to those looking to expand their skills in the tech sector, they can cost a pretty penny, up to $11,000 in some cases, which begs the need for financial aid in the first place.
Offering these programs to eligible students will allow for students to further better themselves when it comes to acquiring skills beyond that of what’s taught in college. Coding is obviously a valuable skill right now and will continue to be in the future, so offering aid for students interested in going down those paths is undoubtedly be a boon for tech-related employers and companies in the future.
Glico, that Japanese company that makes a bunch of popular snacks like Pocky, has created what’s probably the most delicious way to learn basic coding. It has launched a new app called Glicode, which features a character you can control by taking photos of your noms. Seriously. You know how Pocky’s basically a biscuit stick covered in chocolate, strawberry and all sorts of yummy flavors? Well, you have to position and arrange them in a way that the app can translate into digital commands, and then take a photo. If you do things right, your character can move through obstacles.
The app is now out for Android, though it looks like the company is also developing an iOS version. We were able to download it just fine, so it’s definitely available outside Japan. As you can guess, Glico conjured up this project for kids, but there’s absolutely no reason you can’t try it out. After all, nobody can tell you not to play with your food anymore.
Check out Glicode in action below:
Via: The Verge, TheNextWeb
DIY robots are becoming the gateway to coding. Over the last couple of years, a new wave of cute-faced bots has taken shape to make programming languages fun for kids. Instead of dense textbooks and complex online tutorials that are designed for a more mature audience, programmable toys are built to introduce young kids to the world of code. The latest entrant on the educational bot scene is the JIMU robot, a build-your-own-bot kit from UBTECH Robotics that snaps together to form a little dancing humanoid called MeeBot or a more elaborate elephant that flips forward on its trunk for some awkward yoga asanas.
With the JIMU robot, UBTECH Robotics, a Schenzen-based company that has been around for eight years, is stepping into a space that’s quickly getting cluttered with motorized toys. The company already has a lineup that includes industrial bots in China and commercial humanoids like Alpha 2, but now they’re using their existing infrastructure to build affordable, programmable robots for kids, eight and older, with DIY inclinations. They might also find a home in schools that are looking to adopt coding in their curriculum.
The MeeBot kit, which is available exclusively at Apple stores for $130 starting today, comes with interlocking parts that include colorful blocks, connectors, motors and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. A platinum grey control box with a U-shaped line across the front doubles as a smiling face. Lime green blocks make the arms while the turquoise pieces are the legs. Bright red flat feet lend a pop of color and a personality to the robot that can break into a jig with the touch of command. Six servo motors, produced in-house by the robotics company, act as moving joints along the body of the robot.
The humanoid with its 201 parts is actually the simpler build within the JIMU ecosystem. There’s also the Explorer Kit, which lets you construct complex animals like a penguin, T-Rex or a parrot with 372 parts, and the more advanced, 675-piece Inventor Kit. You can buy the latter on Amazon to build an elephant, giraffe or a humanoid that looks like a descendent of Optimus Prime. In addition to these “official characters”, the JIMU robotic system makes room for creativity so that young builders can come up with their own iterations with the same blocks.
The JIMU’s building block anatomy resembles LEGO’s interlocking bricks. Indeed, the higher-end, 16-servo humanoid from the $400 Inventor Kit evokes memories of LEGO’s flashier, laser-wielding Mindstorm robot, which sells for a similar $350. But what the JIMU’s more expensive iteration lacks in flashy accessories, it makes up with the simpler and more affordable MeeBot that can help kids learn a coding language for a lot less money.
In addition to the accessible price point, JIMU’s open-source software is where its educational capabilities really shine. You can build and program the robot from the JIMU robot companion app, which is available on the Apple store and will soon launch for Android. There are step-by-step 3D animated instructions that make the construction a lot easier than working with an old-school print booklet. You can zoom in and twirl the robot’s body around on the screen for 360-degree views to see how the parts interact with each other.
Still, it’s not as simple as building a LEGO figure. The construction, as general manager John Zhee pointed out during a recent demo, is intentionally challenging. It makes room for collaborative building between students or a parent and child. Depending on your DIY skills, after you’re done building the machine you can start programming its movements. You can pick from a list of pre-loaded “actions” that range from basic front and back movements to some “crazy dance” moves or you can come up with your own choreography through the “pose, record and playback” feature. When the Meebot is standing still, you can move its arms or legs, reposition them and record the manual movements for the app to lay down the line of code for you. When you hit play, the robot moves the way you intended. The feature essentially takes your physical interactions with the robot and turns it into automated moves when you hit play.
When you’ve figured out the choreography, you can work through the more advanced programming aspects of the dance routines. In a block cording section that looks like a colorful flow chart, you can drag and drop actions, conditions and coding functionalities from a list of controls. After choosing the starting point of the program, you choose an action that will act as a trigger. The tilt of a phone to the right, for instance, can set the movement off. For the actual moves, you can choose from a preloaded list or you can design your own before bringing it into the final performance.
All of this makes a user think about sequencing, order of events and even the correlation between coding and movements. For someone who wants to dig in deeper into the programming of the robot, a simple tap on an icon on the top right of the screen takes you into Swift to see the breakdown of your code. While the 3D instruction set is rooted in Java, the company says it went with Apple’s Swift programming language for its simplicity. “There’s a big push to bring it into the main fold,” says Zhee. “Kids need to understand robotics at a young age, get their brains primed for what’s coming. Swift fits into that easy coding approach.”
Beyond the build and the programming, another feature that UBTECH Robotics seems to be banking on is its Instagram-style social sharing. Users can share their stories, robot pictures and even how-to-build instructions through a feature in the app so others can like, comment or follow. This kind of community-building aspect seems unique within the landscape of educational robots that have been available on the market. But the ease with which you can build and program a JIMU robot is its biggest strength. A child or an adult who appreciates the DIY robot building activity does not need prior programming knowledge to get into it. In fact, the starter kit is an ideal starting point for anyone looking to step into the world of programming.
As a parent, nothing brings more joy than the start of the summer holidays. Time spent at the park, visits to the local swimming pool and trips to the zoo often figure on many family’s six-week agenda, but activities laid on by Google are probably the last thing any mum, dad or grandparent expects to budget for. In a bid to help kids learn how to code, the search giant has launched “Summer Squad,” a free eight-week series of tech-focused classes for kids aged between 8 and 13.
Many of Google’s sessions focus on the Raspberry Pi and include coding sessions that let kids explore space, craft a virtual ferris wheel in Python and build a bespoke photo booth capable of snapping selfies. Children can also create simple robots using Lego’s Mindstorms EV3 kit and beat machines by navigating through a computer maze.
For each activity completed, kids will be rewarded with a special badge and a t-shirt. If all six badges are collected, Google says it will hand out a “secret” seventh badge. Google will host the activities between July 12th and September 1st in three of its official shops, which are basically Currys PC World locations with a Google theme.
Two are in London — one in Tottenham Court Road and the other in Fulham — with the third located in Thurrock, Essex. If that’s too long to wait, the search giant has created a special listing of Summer Squad coding apps, which can be found on Google Play.
Source: Google Summer Squad
If you have a few tots in your life who might be inclined to learn computer programming if their favorite Disney characters were involved, you might want to introduce them to Code.org. Both Star Wars and Frozen characters are now being integrated into the organization’s full computer science campaign aiming to get kids into coding.
According to Code.org, the Star Wars and Frozen tutorials have already been used more than 30 million times since their inception. With familiar characters looking back out at young would-be coders, that number could very well rise going forward with Disney’s stars being featured in the platform’s full suite of lessons.
If you have a kid that’s interested in dabbling or if you need to get started at the most basic level of coding (and think BB-8 is adorable) you can check out some of the lessons here.
There has been a big push in computer science education in the last few years. The UK has made it part of its national curriculum, the President has pledged $4 billion toward a national computer science initiative, and a plethora of toys and games designed to teach kids how to code has come to market. Even Apple got into the spirit with the introduction of Swift Playgrounds, an iPad app that instructs kids on the basics of the company’s Swift programming language. Today, Google is unveiling its own big investment in computer science education. It’s called Project Bloks, an open hardware platform that anyone can use to create physical coding experiences for kids.
Project Bloks made out of three basic components: The “Brain Board,” “Base Boards” and “Pucks.” The “Brain Board” is, well, the brains of the operation. It houses the main processing unit and is built on top of a Raspberry Pi Zero. It provides power and connectivity to the whole system, and can communicate with any device that has an API through WiFi and Bluetooth. The Base Boards, on the other hand, are modular pieces that can be connected via the Brain Board to create grids or different programming flows. Each Base Board has a capacitive sensor, which it uses to receive instructions from the Pucks.
The Pucks are really the heart and soul of Project Bloks. They’re basically code instructions in physical form. Some examples of Pucks include dials, switches, arrows and buttons, which can then be programmed with instructions like “turn on and off” or “go up.” They also have no active electronic components and are therefore very inexpensive to make — they can be anything from high-end plastics to a piece of paper with conductive ink. As long as they have some kind of capacitive ID that the system can use to identify them, they can be used as Pucks. Therefore a very basic Project Bloks system will have one Brain Board connected to one or more Base Boards that are outfitted with a Puck each.
Project Bloks is a collaboration between Google’s Creative Lab division and Paulo Blikstein, the Director of Transformative Learning Technologies Lab at Stanford University. The idea is based on a concept called tangible programming, a long-held theory that kids naturally play and learn better by using their hands and by playing with each other. That’s why making the code be akin to physical blocks is pretty important.
Unfortunately, until now, tangible programming isn’t something that’s very accessible to most people. Sure there are companies that have made coding toys for kids, but they’re often quite expensive. What’s more, their functionality is often quite limited.
“You really need a lot of expertise,” explains Jayme Goldstein, the leader of the project. “You need to know electrical engineering, you need to know hardware engineering. You’ve got to spend a lot of time developing the infrastructure before you can even get to the educational design.” Goldstein says the researchers he’s spoken to often spend a couple of years just on the technical back-end. “Next is the money. There’s a lot of research and development associated with hardware, along with opportunity costs.”
But since Google has already done all of that work, all designers and developers need to do is to take that Project Bloks platform and create something from it. “What we bring to the table, is the hardware underpinnings,” says Goldstein. “It’s a system that designers, developers and researchers can use to make all kinds of physical programming experiences for kids.”
“Imagine what could happen if we had ten times more people developing ways for children to learn coding and computational thinking,” said Blikstein in a statement. “Not just the traditional way, but kits that would teach programming in different ways such as making music or controlling the physical world. That is what this platform will enable: make it easy to think outside of the box, without all the technical obstacles.”
One of the example systems that the team came up with was to have Pucks represent different musical instruments, so you could create music patterns. You could then press a Record button to get all of those patterns into a single Puck, which you could then put back into the system as an instrument. “All of a sudden, you’re learning abstraction,” says Joao Wilbert, the Tech Lead of the project. “It’s usually incredibly hard to grasp.”
“What we’ve got here is a general technology,” says Goldstein, thus setting it apart from more task-specific toys like Osmo’s Coding or Little Bits. “This system can be customized to talk to different toys. It can do far more than just moving in different directions.” It’s also very accessible and can be used even by kids who don’t have literacy skills yet. Because Project Bloks is so open-ended, you can use it with the Internet of Things — you could have it work with a Nest, for example — or anything with an Arduino. “This is a coding toy that grows up with the child,” Goldstein says.
Google worked with IDEO, an international design consultancy, to create a reference design for Project Bloks. Simply called Coding Kit, it has a Brain Board and a bunch of different Base Boards and Pucks that kids can put together to control anything from a tablet to a robot like one from Lego’s WeDo. But lest you get excited, the Coding Kit is not for sale. Instead, Google is going to use it for testing with kids and select schools. It’ll also be available for public testing at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco.
“We’ll be doing an academic paper and a research study to gather data,” says Goldstein. “The dataset is going to be made open to everyone.” He explains that developing out in the open is how Google operates. “This is a field where there is an ecosystem already. We just want to get feedback. This is just the first step.”
After a couple of unforeseen delays, the BBC finally began delivering Micro:bit computers to Year 7 students across the UK in March. With the objective of distributing free microcomputers to an entire year group nearing completion — around 80 percent of schools have received theirs to date — it’s time to let anyone else with an interest in coding loose on the little device. Pre-orders open today at element14, which manufactures the palm-sized ‘puters, Microsoft’s online store and many other resellers, with the first shipments expected in July.
A lone Micro:bit costs £13, while a starter bundle with battery pack, USB cable and a handful of introductory activities goes for £15 — you can also get 10 of these for a discounted price of £140. Beyond these official options, there are several kits available at retailers for more elaborate projects, though element14 is the place to go for bulk orders.
The Micro:bit is small microcomputer with programmable buttons, an LED array, various sensors, several I/O rings and Bluetooth connectivity. Developed by the BBC with the help of many partners including Microsoft, Samsung and ARM, it was initially intended to introduce children to the basics of coding and computing. You only have to look at the incredibly popular Raspberry Pi boards to see there’s an appetite for cheap hardware you can tinker with at home, however, so the plan was always to make Micro:bits more widely available.
Now anyone can pre-order the device, but better yet, there’s a wealth of resources available for free online to help you master the Micro:bit, including apps for iOS and Android that mean you only need a smartphone to get started.
Source: element14 (1), (2)