An ongoing question from many parents and grandparents is: ‘How can I get my kids interested in computers’ or ‘How can I give my kids an edge?’ Believe it or not, there are many free or reasonable ways to let your kids try technology and see if they have an interest or talent. For brevity I have chosen two projects — Raspberry Pi and AppInventor.
Raspberry Pi was started specifically as a way to get simple, inexpensive computers into the hands of children and the impoverished. You can read the complete story at http://raspberrypi.org/about . Professors at Cambridge University were concerned about the decline of quality computer science students and so the idea for an inexpensive computer for everyone was born.
After much planning and design, the first Raspberry Pi computers were released for sale. Since their original release there has been a second revision. Currently there are still two versions - A and B. I would suggest the B model as it has built-in network connection and is only $35.
There are many projects that have been created around the Raspberry Pi. It is used as a home theater PC, video game machine, home security brain, and many other things. A check of the Pi website above or a quick search will help you find a project that might be of interest. The Pi board and a quick trip to Radio Shack could spark your kids or maybe even you!
MIT AppInventor (http://appinventor.mit.edu) is a free project designed to help people design applications (apps) for the Android system. Android is the free operating system created by Google which is used on many phones and tablets.
I recently took an Android course at SIU-C which used AppInventor as the way to program apps as assignments. Fortunately there are many, many YouTube videos which will walk you through creating simple apps step by step.
In addition, the MIT website listed above has written instructions as well as the same text we used at SIU. These projects begin at a very easy level and become as difficult as you want to jump into them. The later projects might be too difficult for kids under 10, but should be fine for anyone older.
AppInventor uses a visual programming method. This means that the actual code writing is never seen. You simply snap blocks together how they fit. If you try to put something in a spot where it doesn’t fit or work, the program will tell you how to fix the issue.
This doesn’t let you create the next Twitter, but you can create some very in-depth applications that do what you need. We created geolocating and programs that kept track of detailed lists which you could add and remove items from as you wish. This sounds easy, but is difficult to program.
There are my picks for a couple of projects which may help you or your kids be more active in computing.
Do you have any suggestions or questions? Tweet me @DanVoyles or email me using firstname.lastname@example.org.