Sunday, 25 August 2013

Child's Play

I sometimes feel like I'm caught between two worlds. My father was one of the key people for getting Wang computers into parts of the Australian Federal Government, however his generation were born before our modern computers, and so he was always playing catch-up. My son at age seven has taken to having laptop and joining me in playing with the +Arduino all to easily. And it has only been through my own lack of organisation that he hasn't had the opportunity to play with a +RaspberryPi.

But we are taking steps in the right direction. As an educator I know that even when dealing with an audience that has a background in the subject area and a strong conceptual ability, it is useful to have tangible, physical models to help stimulate and backup their learning of concepts. And this is where I think that the Arduino has a really strong place. There is just as much that can be done to demonstrate the base concepts behind electronics and programming by modifying the set-up of a circuit as there is to rewriting code, and this is an important point that the Arduino brings to any session of working with it.

When we gave our son my wife's old laptop, I first cleaned it up. It's about a 5 year old XP netbook. Even though he'd spent time on our desktops every now and then, it took him a while and some persistence, and many questions to get the swing of using it as a power user. And so his hunger for the knowledge grew. Apart form playing games, and researching old Dr Who episodes on YouTube, every second day he was changing his desktop appearance and demonstrating more skills in the administration of the machine.

Then he saw my Linux Mint-Cinnamon machine in use. He wondered what this Linux thing was and he wanted one – so now his laptop dual-boots. Interestingly enough, whilst he has made changes to the Linux Mint config, I haven't been consulted. Being aware that he was yet to get the Raspberry Pi experience, I grabbed an idea from the Raspberry Pi distros, and installed Scratch on his Linux Mint partition. With a bit of coaxing he got into using it quite well. That was a couple of weeks prior to the both of us ending up on bed-rest with tonsillitis. With my wife overseas at the time, despite the fact that my son was sick – he still had his bounce. How would I keep him in one place, where it was warm, safe and preferably a bed, such that he'd recover quickly and if I fell asleep because of my illness, he'd still be right next to me? And that's where having Scratch tutorials on YouTube playing on the bedroom TV became a real godsend. By the afternoon of our second day laid up, he was re-mastering PacMan. So I had been thinking about using a Raspberry Pi to make the play-room TV into a smart TV, and to give it games. I think the best course of action may be to let my son give that project some direction.