Tuesday Oct 27, 2009

Programming and electronics for kids

I've been continuing to look into programming and electronics for kids. I wrote some of the programming options up a while back. Scratch is still a firm favourite.

On the list of things to try we have brickcc to try out with the lego NXT. Here's an old comparison of the various approaches to programming the NXT brick.

The other on-going project is a microcontroller - the STM Primer. Includes a screen, tilt sensor, and a single button.

On the electronics side (which is what lead me to microcontrollers in the first place), this is a nice article on kits for kids, and a second earlier one. There's also a bunch of kits available at makershed (the most surprising one is an EX-150, which is a couple of kits up from what I had. I think I had the EX-60). Here's a list of some microcontroller starter kits, and a different list of microcontroller like options.

Saturday Mar 22, 2008

Multiplication

Learning the times tables is a pain, we found this software, Timez Attack which combines 3D video game with multiplication practice. Certainly the game appeals to the kids, although I'm not certain that they 'learn' the multiplications.

Friday Mar 21, 2008

Programming for kids

A while ago I started looking for ways to get my oldest coding. My first machine was a zx-81, with 1k of memory, and most of this was used by the screen, there was a big incentive to learn assembler. I'm not out to force him into assembler programming, but...

I evaluated a number of possibilities, one was the Kid's Programming Language (or Phrogram) which can do some impressive things in few lines of code. A sample 3D space 'game' takes about 30 lines most of which look like:

	If IsKeyDown( Up ) Then
		Ship.TiltUP( moveAmount )
	End If

I also looked at squeak, but it didn't grab me as being easy to use.

An interesting alternative to real coding is c-jump, which is a programming board game. I'm not quite convinced by the syntax, or the jumping around the board.

The first thing I tried with him was Java. Which was pretty successful, but I couldn't just leave him to get on with it. There's quite a bit of syntax to have to handle. So while it was a success, it relied on me finding the time to work with him.

We then tried scratch. This has been quite successful for the following reasons:

  • It's all drag-and-drop, and the programming constructs are coloured/shaped so it's easy to put them together correctly.
  • Its all graphical, and the interface is very intuitive. You can see the object that you're programming.
  • It has an integrated graphics editor so he can draw his own sprites. Changing the look of a sprite is a step towards looking at the programming of the sprite and from there modifying the programming.
  • The biggest thing has been that he can work on this autonomously, I just have to see the end results.

The downside of scratch is that it seems a bit limited in what it can do. He really wants to do 3D games - so perhaps Phrogram is the next stop.

Any other recommendations for kids programming?

About

Darryl Gove is a senior engineer in the Solaris Studio team, working on optimising applications and benchmarks for current and future processors. He is also the author of the books:
Multicore Application Programming
Solaris Application Programming
The Developer's Edge
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