Pulling back curtains
"We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves. "- Ada Lovelace
Happy November! The sun barely raises here in the North, but things are busy nonetheless. Scroll down for an update on the book content and some sneak peeks into what I am envisioning it looking like.
Currently the thing I get most joy and energy out of is play testing with kids. One of my favourite exercises is the following. Show the pictures for a little one (and ask them from yourself too!).
- Is a car a computer?
- Is a dog a computer?
- Is a grocery store a computer?
- Is a toilet a computer?
Many kids (and adults!) start by thinking none of these are computers. But cars already have many computers - like the navigation system. Grocery stores have cash registers. Even toilets have computers (at least in Japan!). Computers are getting smaller and cheaper all the time. In the future dogs will probably have computers in their collarbones and so will every milk bottle. Unleashing the creativity and imagination of kids is wonderful: I'm always surprised of the results.
In October I also celebrated Ada Lovelace - the world’s first programmer. Her story keeps on inspiring me: the daughter of a poet father and a mathematician mother Ada grew up to become fiercely interested in machines, numbers and patterns - “that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it", as Charles Babbage explained it. Computing culture is so fascinating. I wish next Halloween we’ll see kids dressing up as little Adas, Charles’ and Alans.
Last time someone requested more pictures and progress updates on the book - so here’s me pulling back the curtains and offering a sneak peek into the artwork of the first chapters.
These are some directions on the book design. The final book will be somewhere between 64 and 72 pages, depending a little on how the rest of the exercises are laid out.
One of the hardest things was to keep together the storyline, the pictures, the exercises and the curricular points in a way that brings out the best in each of them. Ruby’s story should be enjoyable, and quirky, the exercises enticing and fun on their own and everything should tie into the bigger goal of teaching computational thinking.
The final book has ten chapters, each of which introduce one computation theme. And the book will include 33 exercises - puzzles, creative challenges and playful explorations encouraging make believe. They include a paperdoll that teaches boolean algebra, a map maze for learning about algorithms, a dance party for looping and so on. (You can already print and try out one of the exercises here.)
And here’s a sneak peek into the chapter structure and the topics in each of them. I don't want to spoil the story, so headlines for now only!
- Chapter 1 where we meet brave little Ruby and learn about sequence of commands. Exercises call out ways we use algorithms in our daily lives and help understand the importance of giving commands in sequence.
- Chapter 2 where we set out on a journey and find some clues from dad. Exercises help in understanding different types of data a computer uses to make things, like strings, numbers and booleans.
- Chapter 3 where we draw a map for the journey. Exercises call out ways to create algorithms (identifying a set of instructions for a task) to help Ruby through the map.
- Chapter 4 where we meet the booksmart penguins and become builders. Exercises teach basics of lists, arrays and organising and sorting information
- Chapter 5 where we meet the Snowleopard. Exercises introduce the programming concept of loops (running the same sequence multiple times and the different types: while, for and repeat)
- Chapter 6 where we meet the Foxes and learn about clear roles and responsibilities. Exercises introduce the programming concept of events.
- Chapter 7 where we meet the Robots and learn about making decisions. Do this or do not? Do this or do that? Do one of these things? Who knows the difference? Exercises further help in understanding decisions based on conditions.
- Chapter 8 where we meet the boy Django and build things together. Exercises introduce the concept of functions (pieces of code that you want to use over and over again).
- Chapter 9 where we run into a problem. Exercises help understand how the process of debugging: finding and fixing what’s wrong.
- Chapter 10 where we learn about team work. Exercises call out ways programming is collaborative and even real programmers use pair programming and rubber duck debugging to get through problems.
This month’s linked list goes back to the basics: things in computing culture that made me stop this month.
- Simple CPU. An interactive, hands-on guide through hoe a computer really works. Not for the smallest of kids, but for anyone else highly recommended!
- BBC Computing. I have shared this a wonderful, practical resource on computational thinking ages ago.
- A conversation with Alan Kay. Includes classic lines like this: “I believe that the only kind of science computing can be is like the science of bridge building. Somebody has to build the bridges and other people have to tear them down and make better theories, and you have to keep on building bridges.”
- How Ada Lovelace became famous again. If you don’t know Ada’s fascinating story, start with this and continue with the actual book!
- The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth. An essay on how cities prevent kids from free roaming and sauntering - leaving Internet as the last free place for their creativity?