Meghan is an associate editor with EdTech: Focus on K–12. She enjoys coffee, cats and science fiction TV.
Like Lego has done for aspiring architects, Google’s Project Bloksaims to create budding programmers through collaborative play.
The research project by Google and Stanford University Assistant Professor Paulo Blikstein is the latest foray into the world of tangible programming. As the name implies, tangible programming or computing focuses on creating physical interfaces — like littleBits and Robot Turtles — that can help kids understand abstract concepts, such as how code works. Since the 1960s, researchers have been trying to develop tools to help kids learn to code in a way that comes naturally to them.
“Young kids learn by being social, by being collaborative, by playing with things, by exploring with their hands,” says Blikstein in Project Blok’s introductory video.
The Bloks consist of three components: a Brain Board that provides power and sends instructions to a toy or tablet; Base Boards outfitted with sensors; and Pucks that can receive various instructions (such as turn on, move left, play).
With these three simple components, Google is poised to alter the programming world by:
Raising Awareness for Innovative STEM education. Though tangible programming or computing has been in development for decades, a project powered by Google brings the concept into the mainstream. Plus, as reported by Wired, Google hopes that by creating a common technology platform, different companies can come together to create learning plans instead of focusing on establishing the technology.
Creating Accessibility. The idea behind tangible programming is to demystify something abstract like computer code. The simple, three-component Project Bloks system can be used by very young children and kids with learning disabilities. While all kids can benefit from learning about a complex topic in a hands-on way, a study done by Tufts University suggests that young girls in particular become more interested in programming when their computer mouse is replaced with a programmable block.
Putting the ‘A’ in STEAM. Adding an arts element to STEM education has been an important component of well-rounded and meaningful programs, and Project Bloks lends itself well to this — it can literally be anything. Google’s project design is open source, in hopes that programmers and educators will use Project Bloks to create a variety of educational computing programs for children. Any type of material can be put over Pucks, Base Boards and Brain Boards. Some prototypes Google has tried out include a sensor lab and a music maker.
Google’s Project Bloks is still in active research, but you can sign up to track its progress.