Teaching kids how to code: Google's tangible offer

July 06, 2016 // By Julien Happich
The Project Bloks initiated at the Google Creative Lab aims to entice kids to code through recreational problem solving, providing colourful tangible blocks that once snapped together, send their equivalent in compiled code to a nearby robot or application.

Learning coding skills is not just about being able to program a computer, the researchers say, it is about acquiring a skillset useful for solving all sorts of real life problems, expanding kids' literacy and ways of thinking.

In their position paper, the Google researchers acknowledge that a number of block-based coding tutorial aids have already been developed and commercialized, but their goal is to come up with a more versatile and open hardware platform. Tangible reconfigurable blocks that researchers, developers and designers will be able to use to build fully interoperable physical coding experiences (that is, coding through the playful assembly of kid-friendly hardware blocks).

This approach leverages kids' natural inclination to play and learn by using their hands, making code physical in order to help them acquire computational thinking skills. This tangible programming interface is somewhat a hardware emulation of Google's Blockly on-screen block programming.

Project Bloks is a research collaboration between Google, Paulo Blikstein (Stanford University) and design firm IDEO. The collaborators have already built some a working prototype, consisting of three core components: the “Brain Board”, “Base Boards” and “Pucks”, that once connected together, create a set of instructions.