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Learning to program (for kids)

scratch example - MuetzenSpringenAt home my son (aged 9) wanted to learn how to program. The train driver phase was finished now he wanted to be a programmer… why?

Of course kids spend lots of time playing computer games. What could be possibly better than playing computer games? Writing computer games of course! Ask any kid!
By the way people who answered “sport” or “outside activities” to the last question: You’re probably reading the wrong blog.

So we (my son and I) had a look around at various programming languages. There are several languages systems available which we then had to try out (together of course).

I mentioned at work that I didn’t have a problem with my kid playing games – because he was writing them. They were very interested so I packed it in this blog.

First out of the box was Kodu (http://fuse.microsoft.com/projects/kodu) from Microsoft Research:

kodu example

it has a very visual programming system and allows the programmer to get up and running very quickly. After three hours (mostly watching the online training videos) my son had written his first 3D action fish-kissing underwater adventure game. The game design was offline and influenced from his mother. Mutant killer zombie fish (from mars) did not make it through to the final version. You have to swim around kissing the other fish until they all turn pink. The contract with Valve is under negotiation. Easy to program (no typing involved) and you get a very professional looking game at the end.

The main disadvantage of the system was that all games look and feel very similar (see picture above), mainly because you can only use the built in graphics. For a colour blind hedgehog in a bag like me this is an advantage, but my son also wanted to practice his artistic talents. It also claims to be officially available in German but the translation is rather strange or not existent in places.

Then we tried out Scratch from MIT http://scratch.mit.edu/ . This has a visual point, drag, click representation of code and with it is much more flexible than Kodu. It also allows you to draw your own pictures, record your own sounds and various other things. You do have to occasionally use a keyboard. You have to do more, before you have a game but then there is more flexibility in the system.

Several games later I’m currently trying to explain to my son how to simulate gravity (it has no built in physics engine). Here is his latest game “MuetzenSpringen”.

scratch example

The next step is then ARM Assembly programming… or maybe he should concentrate on other school subjects.

Ciao,
Mark.

To find out more about colour blind hedgehogs in bags please see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/blackadder/epguide/four_captain.shtml

3 Comments

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