An example of Chinese parenting style: what to do when your son is addicted to online games?

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My son is only 1.5 years old, so I believe there is still some time for me to get concerned about the games he plays, but a recent news made me consider the relationship of children and online computer games: “Father Hires In-Game “Hitmen” To Deter Son From Playing“:

Sick and tired of his son playing video games and not listening to him, a father in China decided to take matters into his own hands… well, sort of. Instead of sending his son off to addiction camp or stripping him of internet and gaming rights, Mr. Feng (冯先生) chose to hire an online “hitman” to school his son.

Father Hires In-Game “Hitmen” To Deter Son From Playing

Father Hires In-Game “Hitmen” To Deter Son From Playing

This may be an extreme or exaggerated example but it did not keep me from remembering my relationships with computer games in the past. The contrast is obvious: 20-25 years ago, back when I and my friends busy playing with computers such as Sinclair Spectrum 48K, Commodore 64, Amstrad or Amiga 500, the only social aspect of those games were close friends we already knew from school or the neighbourhood. There was no Internet, thus no online games. The other players were either the computer or your friends sitting next to you. Playing a realistic 3D combat game with someone who is a total stranger to you was unimaginable at all. And when we were bored with the games, we either sat down to create our own computer programs and games, or we read articles about programming, or how to hack the games.

It is very difficult for me to imagine what kind of technologies my son will be using in 2033, let alone the sort of games he will be playing. I can only hope that he grows to be not only a consumer of an alternate universe overloaded with not so original graphics, animations and sounds, but at least, also someone who can have a wider imagination to go beyond those, build his own universe and discover the complexity and beauty in wiser simplicities. I’ll try my best to make this happen; I really wouldn’t prefer to hire an online, digital ‘hitman’ character for a game 😉

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Programming for Kids – Action Time – Part 2 – Too young to hack?

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Too young to hack?

Too young to hack?


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.

Phones these days...

Phones these days...

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.

Programming for Kids – Robocup Junior 2012 @ Technopolis

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Robocup Junior - Technopolis 2012

Robocup Junior - Technopolis 2012

Thanks to the members of Devoxx4Kids, I have recently learned about a very interesting event: Robocup Junior 2012. This year’s event is organized at Technopolis, so I decided to go there with my wife and 8 month old son today (well, it is never too early to start, right?).

I was really surprised by the number of children at the event. The robotics tournament took place at a hall and most of the kids were either rushing to place their various robots on different challenge tracks, or very concentrated and busy on their laptops, trying to do the last minute bug fixes.

From robots running for rescue missions, to the ones that solved Rubik’s cube, the event was full of excitement, hacking and creativity. I also had the chance to drop by the Dwengo stand to see their robotics kit, powered by the famous Dwengo board. All that is left to do now is to find out how I can introduce all of this robotics to my students who learn programming in Scratch.

Below you can watch a slideshow of photos from the event.

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