- Pixel Blocks are simple wooden blocks that help young kids learn computer science and computational thinking concepts (comes with activity guides).
- Pixel blocks were thoughtfully developed so they can be used in a variety of ways to learn many different concepts.
- The idea for Pixel Blocks was born out of the daily computer science activities I've been posting to Instagram for close to a year.
- My ideas are heavily influenced by the work of Seymour Papert and Maria Montessori.
Encourage young kids to explore the ABCs of computer science; prepare them for a digital world.
Like all moms, I want what's best for my children and I want to prepare them for their futures. Back when our society advanced at a slower rate, kids only needed to learn the "Three Rs" to build a solid foundation in their lives.
Seeing how rapidly things advance now, I wonder if my kids will learn to drive (or if autonomous vehicles will be ubiquitous) and what kinds of jobs will be available when I see the easy ones getting automated already (like the McDonald's checkout line). And why did my teachers tell me I couldn't use a calculator on the test because in the real world I won't be walking around with a calculator - when most of us can't go 10 minutes without our phones which is a more powerful calculator than we ever used in school. In the age of Google, why are we still memorizing facts that a quick search will provide the answer to?
What is Computational Thinking
We still read, practice writing, and work on Math on a daily basis. But the skill kids really need to develop (that is still lacking in most schools) is how to create solutions to problems that don't even exist yet. That's where Computational Thinking comes in. Many people describe computational thinking as simple problem solving; but it's a bit more than that. It includes specific strategies for solving problems through decomposition, abstraction, algorithms, and pattern recognition. Computational Thinking involves creating solutions that are powerful and yet simplified enough to be carried out by a computer. Simply put, it's thinking like a computer scientist.
For example, Mark Zuckerberg wanted a better way to connect with friends and other peers in college. As a computer scientist he decomposed the problem (broke it down), abstracted out the important details (simplifying necessary operations), recognized patterns (to generalize his solution), and created an algorithm as his solution (Facebook).
This type of thinking isn't just for programmers. Anyone who needs to creatively develop systematic solutions needs computational thinking. All of the good jobs in the future will require this. Plus, because computational thinking can't be taught in a vacuum, through our activities, our kids are also developing creativity, problem solving skills, engineering aptitude, and more.
The more computational thinking activities I came up with (and posted to my Instagram account), the more I felt the need to create a purpose-built toy to enhance my toddler's learning. My husband and I came up with multiple fun activities that could be done with simple wooden blocks. We went online to buy some but noticed that even simple solid colored blocks were hundreds of dollars. Plus, because our space at home is limited, we wanted each side of the blocks to be a different color (meaning we'd need 1/6th the amount of blocks as solid color versions).
The Pixel Block was born! We created a prototype set and had great success trying out our activity ideas with our kids.
I hope and anticipate that children find fun and creative ways to play with Pixel Blocks. However, I also hope that parents will use the blocks to intentionally expose their children to computer science concepts.
"When coding is taught with a playful approach, children are not afraid to make mistakes. After all, playing is just that: playing."
-Marina Umaschi Bers, Researcher and Author of Coding as a Playground
At Little Problem Solvers we create activities and resources that enhance the educational experience of pre-K age kids. We've developed tons of activities to develop computational thinking skills in young children. Our logo is a logic gate that means ‘And.’ Before our kids begin kindergarten, we’ll help them become readers, learn the basics of writing, begin with math AND develop as Little Problem Solvers.
We rely heavily on the studies from top researchers like Seymour Papert, Marina Bers, Lev Vygotsky, Mitch Resnick, Jean Piaget, and others. Our activities are play-based and stress learning through constructive experiences.
Concepts for Little Problem Solvers
Because our activities focus on young children ages 3-6, we really just focus on the ABCs of computational thinking. These include:
- Pattern Matching
- Loops (simple)
- Network Protocols
Our activities are fun, quick to put together, and provide meaningful learning opportunities. However, at times progress can be slow. We have to remind ourselves that it takes a lot of repetition before toddlers start to internalize the concepts. But when our son, O, showed improvement in recognizing patterns and creating longer algorithms we were reaffirmed in our mission to help our kids become Little Problem Solvers.
I’m Emily, a former scientist turned stay-at-home. My husband, Grant, is an award-winning expert in elementary computer science education. We’re all about preparing our kids for the future through activities that build problem solving skills. We love setting up learning experiences that engage our toddlers for as long as possible :) Our focus is on computational thinking but we also love to include other STEM concepts as well.
We first started on this adventure after reading a research article studying how much computational thinking can be learned between the ages 3-6. Inspired by this work and my husband’s experiences in the field, we decided to turn our play room into a learning lab. Not everything we try is an instant hit, but we always have a good time.
Read more about why we are putting so much effort into preparing our kiddos at the Instagram post below.
Risks and challenges
We've completed the activity guides and finalized our prototype blocks. However, making the blocks is a labor intensive process. We now understand why other wooden blocks are so expensive. Wood, non-toxic paint, and the right tools are expensive (not to mention the labor required)!
We've reached out to a couple manufacturers in case we exceed $10,000 in orders. If that's the case, we'll work with them to ensure our high standards for child-safe toys are met.
Whether we are making the blocks ourselves or a manufacturer is, there's always a risk that our production is delayed. We've built in extra time on top of our estimates to make sure we meet your expectations.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)