CodeBug, first approach to schools

By | January 24, 2017

The bell rang a few minutes ago, and somewhere in the dense mass of kids, my daughter is coming to see me. She thinks I’m coming to get her and take her home. She’s right, of course, but this afternoon, I have something I want to do first. Like a magnet, all I have to do is wade in the middle of the flow of children, and she sticks to my leg like a limpet. “Bonjour papa!”, she says, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over that smile. She is curious as to why we haven’t turned back yet, and I explain that I need to see a teacher first. She looks at me with bright eyes, and asks if she can return to play with her friends. I say yes, she can, but before I even finish the sentence, she disappears, lost in the mass of screams and energy. We constantly look at renewable energy sources, but if you just install a couple of giant hamster wheels here, we’d have free energy for life (plus they might actually be tired enough to go to bed early at the end of the day).

I continue to wade in the river of children, attempting not to get caught in the current. They run around me, almost as if I was a rock, or other small obstacle. I have a theory that children are liquid in state, and only become solid later in life, but that theory will have to wait. Right now, I have a teacher to see. I finally manage to catch up with her, and ask if she has a few minutes. She answers yes, and asks what it is I want to talk about.

Well, you see, a few days ago, element14 sent me a kit, something called a CodeBug. It’s a small device that teaches kids to code. She looks skeptical, and I anticipated that. I explain my past, that I’m an author, I’ve written technical book, but I’m also a teacher from time to time, teaching IoT and electronics. I don’t want to teach 8-year-olds boring C, drowning their curiosity in waves of Powerpoint presentations, dragging them back to boredom after 5 minutes. No, I have something else. Here, look at this.

I take the CodeBug out of my pocket, and give it to her. She takes it gingerly, and fiddles about with it. “Hey, it’s cute!”. When reviewing development boards, I don’t normally think twice about the cuteness factor, but she’s right; CodeBug really is cute. So I go fishing. Literally. I plug in the USB cable, and dangle it above the kids. Of course, I’m not showing the teacher this, I’m pretending just to hold it, but I’m pretty sure about what is about to happen. It takes mere seconds.

One kid screeches to a halt, and looks at the board; a small bug, with eyes and feet. He tugs on my jacket “What is it?”. I explain. It is a toy, designed to be programmed using a computer to do lots of cool things. “Can I write my name on it?”. Yes, you can, here, you see these? These are tiny lights, and you can use them to write your name. Another one stops, intrigued by the conversation. She asks if she can hold it, and I say yes. She holds it, and eventually presses one of the buttons. I had preprogrammed it with a dice program, one that took mere minutes to create. The CodeBug flashes, and displays a number. She giggles, and another child stops. He wants to try too, and see if he can beat her score. He doesn’t, and someone else tries. And so on. And so on.

So that’s it, I now have a meeting with the school director to talk about this, and as she has contacts with other schools, I might just be able to show them a bit more, and have half an hour with them so they can try it out for themselves.

Our future is here, playing with marbles, running behind friends on tricycles, or combing the hair of best friends forever. I see doctors, I see lawyers, I see airline pilots, I see policemen. And maybe, just maybe, I see a few more engineers, if we can show them our job. The only thing I don’t see is my own daughter.

Some jobs are more visible than others. You see policemen every day. You see doctors every day (well, sort of), but you never “see” engineers, you only see mothers and fathers who have left work. You never get to see the cool stuff we do, with the fantastic gadgets we have. Now it’s time to take our gadgets to the future generation, and see what they can make. Thanks, element14, for giving me a CodeBug, and thanks for everything else.

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