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Colorful robots teach children computer programming

Posting in Education
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It’s easier to learn a language when you start young -- I can’t imagine trying to learn Chinese now. Turns out the same goes for programming. Rather than learn DrScheme and how to write a line of C++ as college freshmen (CS3 at UC Berkeley, amirite), a couple Google and Apple alums think we should have started sooner, much sooner. 

So how do you make programming something that kids want to do? Use adorable robots. Wired reports

Play-i was started by Vikas Gupta, the former head of consumer payments at Google, Saurabh Gupta, a former engineer at Apple, and Mikal Greaves, formerly of Frog Design. Their focus is to make little robots that teach children programming concepts and languages through interaction and play, Wired explains

The company launched a crowdfunding campaign a few weeks ago and has already brought in more than three times its original goal of $250,000. Wired writes that "this flush of money is nothing if not reflective of our current time, where writing code is becoming as important as writing sentences."

Gupta found that in Estonia, children begin to learn programming as early as first grade. After all, basic programming concepts -- causation, logic and simple sequencing of instructions -- are not beyond a child’s grasp.

So, how does playing with little robots Bo and Yana teach programming? They are covert learning machines. Lines of code are reframed into something easier for children to understand. They can tell Bo (the larger, three-wheeled explorer) to play a song, dance, or even deliver a flower. Or tell Yana, the storyteller, to roar like a lion when shaken. 

This is mostly just teaching causality -- “when I do this, you do this” -- Wired explains, but it’s a starting point and gives children the basics of a skill set they might eventually learn in school.

“Kids can start weaving these characters into stories and learning about sequences,” Gupta says. “On page one you can say, if I throw you, you’re a lion, but if I shake you, you’re a train. Suddenly what they’re doing is programming sequences and conditions and branches, but in the context of a story and characters.”


Image/video: Play-i

 

— By on December 1, 2013, 2:21 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure