Fostering a programmer part two
Sunday, April 15, 2012 6:50:13 PM
A while back I posted a piece called Fostering a programmer where I made a first stab at introducing my 7-year old daughter to the wonderful world of programming. I think programming is a really valuable piece of knowledge to have in the modern society and having it as a girl makes you even more unique.
The C64 approach, amusing as it was for me, didn't really get her hooked. No surprise there I guess. The C64 just doesn't have the appeal to her that it had to me. It was the only piece of interesting technology I had available back in the early 80's. My daughter has a Chromebook, an iPhone an iPad and a Wii... making ASCII games isn't going to blow her away anytime soon, so I've been searching for other ideas.
Raspberry PI, LEGO Mindstorm, Meccano and boardgames are some of the alternatives, but just the other day I stumbled over the blog of a brilliant guy calling himself DrTechnico. He had this idea of letting kids draw small programs made up of instructions like "move left foot forward" and "turn left" that would control their parents. The goal would be to navigate some obstacles and pick up an object.
It's a truly brilliant idea, teaching your kids basic programming! Plus, it has the appeal no fancy touch-tablet can compete with. You get to play with your dad! Or.. you even get to make your dad do silly things like walk into a wall! This would be a sure thing! I was so excited about the idea of trying that on my kids that I couldn't sleep. I had to get out of bed, go downstairs and prepare for a Sunday of "Daddy-robot". I obviously needed to make an instruction sheet in Swedish so I thought it best to draw my own robot and instructions using svg and html (of course). Check out my "Daddy-robot" image, as well as the full Instruction sheet in Swedish.The whole excercise was a complete and utter success. We both had a blast! Annika was jotting down instructions, testing the program on the daddy-bot, giggling as the daddy-bot took a wrong turn and kicked down one of the garden chairs. In the image you can see the daddy-bot has executed about 10-15 instructions and have successfully navigated past the garden chairs. It's soon about to make a right turn and head towards the sand-box.
Notice the clever but inadvertent product placement in this shot of Annika writing up a new program for the daddy-bot.
Here's a picture of Annika being very pleased with herself after having completed a 25-instruction program that took the daddy-bot past the garden chairs, around the sand box and right up to the plastic showel successfully completing the task by executing the last "pick up" instruction.
You might notice she's wearing a onepiece. Let me just take this opportunity to congratulate Norway on another awesome piece of export. Raping axe-wielding sailors, then fish, then oil and now this...a jump suite with a zipper that goes all the way up so you can't even see where you're walking. And apparently every kid needs one. Congratz Norway!
Anyway, getting back to the subject. We both had a blast, she started making up new instructions like jump and say, and in fact the day just ended with me having to write a program that made my Daughter-bot walk from the starting position in the living room out into the hallway, walk backwards into the kitchen, head into the bathroom, turn towards the sink and execute the "brush teeth" operation... that's what I call a successful game. Try it on your kids! I guarantee you'll enjoy it yourself and you're making the universe a favor by making your kids smarter.