I had the great opportunity to attend to the second meeting of Devoxx4Kids yesterday evening. The main difference from the first one was the fewer number of people, but this in no way translated into a lack of enthusiasm or the intensity of brainstorming combined with fantastic surprises and toys.
We had our special guests from Dwengo, a Belgian non-profit that produces great electronic programmable boards (“everything in one package, better than Arduino” they say), as well as different types of robots and aim to bring together young minds and easily hackable systems together. After witnessing their demonstrations at the Robocup Junior event a few weeks ago, it was a serendipity for me to meet the creators of those systems in person.
I especially enjoyed the demonstration part during which the Dwengo founder took his Android smartphone, established a Bluetooth connection with the little Bluetooth chip add-on on the Dwengo robot and started to control the robot remotely, simply by moving his Android phone in different directions and speeds.
Later we compared the visual programming language developed by the Dwengo team, Dwengo Blocks, with the Scratch programming environment from MIT. It was nice to see that different teams from different parts of the world is converging when it comes to helping kids to learn program: Visual, yet powerful and flexible programming languages, browser-based, no-installation-needed programming environments, the ability to see behind-the-scenes of the visual program and the ability to control physical objects that act upon the real world.
For me, one of the most important outcomes of this meeting is that things started to take shape and we are on our way to work on creating a short, one-day educational introduction to computational creativity and thinking, as well as robotics and electronics. Thanks to the energy and organizational experience of Stephan Janssen and substantial input from the experienced group members such as Tasha Carl (of sagan.be fame), it seems like the result is going to be more than exciting.
Our son, now almost 9 months old is still too young for learning programming but I consider these meetings and the collaboration to follow a wonderful and great opportunity to prepare myself for the next years. I’m sure when he grows up he’ll be facing different technologies than what is available today but it is comforting to know that the grand unifying themes of computational thinking do not change that fast, and hopefully by the time he can understand what I say, I’ll be a much better guide.