Google hopes its open hardware platform will help developers and researchers create ‘tangible’ programming projects for education
Google has created an open hardware platform called Project Bloks that aims to help children learn to code by offering a ‘tangible’ programming experience.
The idea is that because children are ‘inherently’ playful and social, they learn better naturally and by using their hands. By offering them something physical to program with, rather than learning lines from a textbook or a computer screen, Google hopes teaching will become more effective.
“We’re passionate about empowering children to create and explore with technology,” said the company. “We believe that when children learn to code, they’re not just learning how to program a computer—they’re learning a new language for creative expression and are developing computational thinking: a skillset for solving problems of all kinds.”
The Project Blok system comprises three core components – pucks, the brain board and the base board – and developers can customise, reconfigure and rearrange these to create all sorts of learning tools. By combining all three, children will be able to create a set of ‘instructions’ that can control a connected device, such as a tablet, smartphone or even a toy.
The brain board is a Raspberry Pi Zero-powered processing unit that provides the other components with power. It has its own API to connect with any other device that has an API over a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.
The pucks have no active electronic components and can be built of almost anything – switches, dials or even just a piece of paper and some conductive ink. These pucks have instructions such as ‘turn on’, ‘turn off’, or ‘jump’ and can be re-arranged for different effects.
The base board reads these instructions through a series of sensors and a haptic monitor, LEDs and speakers give children real time feedback.
Google says Project Bloks is the latest development in a long tradition of physical learning but barriers to the creation of a system have persisted.
“However, designing kits for tangible programming is challenging—requiring the resources and time to develop both the software and the hardware,” added the search giant. “Our goal is to remove those barriers.
“By creating an open platform, Project Bloks will allow designers, developers and researchers to focus on innovating, experimenting and creating new ways to help kids develop computational thinking. Our vision is that, one day, the Project Bloks platform becomes for tangible programming what Blockly is for on-screen programming.”
To get things started, Google has created a reference device with IDEO called the ‘Coding Kit’ and is looking for teachers, developers and parents from around the world to participate in the project.
The government has made moves to get coding into the UK curriculum, while one million school children have received BBC Micro:bit devices in a bid to teach young people digital skills.