A kid has to start programming

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Our older son is now 7.5 years old, and he expressed his interest in learning how to program. We had a Dutch translation of Scratch programming book for children, but before starting with the book, I made him program me. That is, I told him that “now I’m the robot, and I can only follow the instructions that you’ll issue, and I can do them exactly as you say, in the order you say, and nothing else. Now make this robot pick that toy from your brothers bed’s corner.” For both of us, it turned out to be a funny, as well as challenging exercise. In only a few minutes, he quickly realized how many things he takes for granted, and how even a seemingly super simple and straightforward task is composed of many intricate details. He also saw how things can go wrong, because he had to “debug” his robot-dad. He became also a little frustrated when I insisted doing exactly as he said without any interpretation. “Welcome to my world son!” was a natural reaction from me.

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Yet another Scratch programming workshop for kids – TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012

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Long story short: The children were excited but I was probably more excited than them during the “Programming and creativity using Scratch” workshop series that took place at Koninklijk Atheneum Antwerpen as part of the TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012. Both the morning and the afternoon sessions went very well, and it was a unique experience exploring the fundamentals of computational thinking with children while helping them take their first steps into programming using Scratch. After this event, I have decied to publish my “Scratch Workshop Agenda” document under a Creative Commons license so that other people who would like to organize similar events could be able to take this as a starting point. It is also very nice to see that the previous version of this document had been used at the Devoxx4Kids events (held in Dutch and then French).

Programming and creativity using Scratch - 1

Programming and creativity using Scratch – 1

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Scratch programming workshop at TEDxYouth@Flanders 2012

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I get very excited whenever an opportunity presents itself to introduce computational thinking and creativity to children. This Saturday, together with our young participants, I’ll be leading an introductory Scratch workshop, similar to the International Scratch Day 2012 we did in Antwerp, Belgium a few months ago. This time, the Scratch event will be a part of TEDxFlanders Youth 2012. If you browse the program, you will see that in addition to my introductory Scratch programming workshop, there are other workshops related to Lego Robotics, 3D scanning, Mars Exploration, 3D printing and many other interesting, cool topics (why didn’t they do things like that when I was a kid? Sigh! :)).

So if you are living in Antwerp, or nearby and have a kid who is curious about the world, feel free to visit http://2012.tedxflanders.be/youth to register.  While your child explores many aspects of technology and creativity in a hands-on manner, you can enjoy the main TEDxFlanders event that is barely a few hundred meters away.

How can a group of kids multiply their creativity by learning to code?

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Recently we have decided to put Belgium on the map by introducing computer programming to kids by using the wonderful and child-friendly, multilingual Scratch programming environment. And what time could be better than the International Scratch Day 2012 for this mission? Thanks to the facilities and support provided by Antwerp International School, not only the students from this school, but also children from other parts of the Antwerp were able to join this one-day introductory workshop.

I had a lot of fun by watching the immense creativity of children from 9-year olds to 13-year olds. Before the workshop started I had some doubts, but the enthusiasm of the children, especially after learning the simplest programming concepts, and seeing that they could easily apply these to colorful graphics and sounds, had a powerful and multiplying effect on them. Another nice aspect of the event was the collaboration between children, between boys and girls; in order to help each other overcome some technical challenges. You can visit http://scratch.mit.edu/users/scratchdaybelgium12 to see a sample of the projects created by the children during the day.

One of the many projects created on the International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

One of the many projects created on the International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

The event lasted slightly more than 3 hours, and it turned out to be above my expectations: at the end of the day, we had to scratch the kids off the computers so that they could go home, and of course continue coding there, using what they learned that day and what they are going to learn in the upcoming days, with the help of Scratch community.

I hope this event is going to inspire similar events, because I believe in the importance of introducing computational thinking concepts and patterns to children from a very early age, so that they can be computational problem solvers in any field they choose to study in the future. I think this also means going beyond merely being a “digital  native”, and becoming a producer of ideas and implementations rather than just being a passive consumer of Internet entertainment and data explosion.

Let’s put Belgium on the map: International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp

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Let’s put Belgium on the map: International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

This is a free workshop for kids who want to step into the wonderful world of programming, creativity and computational thinking. For more information please visit http://day.scratch.mit.edu/event/593

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

What does an 8-year old girl think about robots? A very short story about “The Smallest Robot” – “De allerkleinste robot”

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As followers of this blog may have already noticed, I’ve been giving introductory programming classes to children and nowadays I have a student who is 12 years old. During our lessons, her sister (8 years old) is always very curious about what we talk about and she is generally surprised at what her elder sister can do with Scratch. A few weeks ago, with the help of a robotics book, I gave a lesson about robotics and prepared an assignment to create a very simple robotics simulator in which a hand-drawn robot should go around an obstacle and reach the treasure box. Next week, to my astonishment, not only did I receive a simple and interesting Scratch program from my student, but also a short story on robots from her little sister. The story is titled “De allerkleinste robot” and it is about very little robots, witches and wizards. I have to admit that I’m totally speechless when it comes to the imagination of a child:

De allerkleinste robot - The smallest robot

De allerkleinste robot - The smallest robot

What to do with your kids on a weekend? Visit the European Astronaut Centre on German Aerospace Day

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There is an excellent opportunity for parents living in Belgium (or anywhere that is not far from Cologne, Germany) that presents itself every two years: German Aerospace Day. The latest event took place last year, and unfortunately our son was just a few months old then. Thus I decided to take a field trip and get familiar with the environment, so that maybe next time (or four years later) I can take him to this wonderfully exciting event in which a child can ask questions directly to the astronauts or walk inside the 1:1 scaled of International Space Station‘s Columbus module. And then maybe go through the initial procedures of applying for being an astronaut. On the more adventurous side, he can join the other children and build rockets, and then test them in real-time 😉 (Well, I’m sure some parents will have at least as much as their children, if not more.)

German Aerospace Day

German Aerospace Day

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