Any ideas on how to spending an amazing time in a nice, hot, sunny, summer day Sunday with your whole family? How about spending the day indoors, in front of computer screens, with the window shades down, together with a hundred kids of all ages in a closed space? Sounds like fun?
You bet it is! We had a great time during Devoxx4Kids Brasil, that happened this past Sunday, in Globalcode’s São Paulo offices. The event was organized by Globalcode, with support from SouJava. A hundred kids filled the corridors and lab rooms, with their laughter and enthusiasm. In front of computers, in singles, doubles and manys, kids of all ages learned about programming, internet of things, robotics, LEDs, games, sensors, computer languages, electronics, Java, and much more!
Kids had a blast! The most asked question I heard that day was variations of “when are we having the next one?”. Like the kid wanting to know if the course was going to happen every Sunday! Even the parents wanted to now “what’s next”.
Several choices, one great fun day!
No wonder they wanted more! There was a choice of classes, each one with its own “WOW” factor. Kids could join the funny class presented by Yara Senger that taught programming using the scratch language. By creating virtual Harlem Shakes with digital monsters or crazy Zebras that followed the lead of a famous flappy-game, kids learned programming skills in a fun, light environment. But maybe they were more into games, and joined Paulo “JCranky” Siqueira on his Minecraft classes. Do you also like to play it? But kids really went crazy with the possibility of creating extra-strong TNTs, infinity-deep holes, and other funny tweaks of their beloved game. My personal favorite was the mixture of programming, robotics and electronics that happened on Vinicius Senger‘s Internet of Things class: what can beat the excitement of building your… your own… robo-stuff-house-light-thing-that-does-really-what? All you need was a quick peek at any of those rooms to hear and see the extreme fun the kids were having.
Once the corridors and common spaces became silent and no little critter could be seen dangerously running between other larger beings, it was our turn to join the action. On the aptly named “Bill Joy” room, we got to work on providing some fun for those that have to pay the bills! Me and my wife, Karina Souza, gathered all the parents — that honestly, were a bit lost without their little ones nearby — to discuss ideas for getting involved in their kids computer and programming explorations. I think the famous Bill to whom the room was named after would be proud to see the interest of those big kids in learning and sharing their own experiences.
Parents need help to help our kids!
Lets face it, even for us, developers and nerds, it is not easy to teach our kids to explore the vast array of the computer programming world. OK, OK, there are some of us that are amazing teachers! But for the most part, our kids wonder what is that we actually do! (I remember when my older daughter had a “what your parents do” class, and was very happy to report that “Daddy stays home all day, playing games on the computer”. I’m glad my boss didn’t get that report!). So, while organizing Devoxx4Kids, we were worried about what those poor parents would do, once they went back home and had kids wanting to do more, or telling them that they now “had to” play 10 hours of Minecraft a day, or deciding to see how many LEDs they could pluck from inside the big “LED TV” sitting idly in the living room…
For lack of a better name, our Devoxx4Kids-4-Parents parenting discussion was a lot of fun also. The first thing we need to realize is that just because kids stay all day in the computer, it does not necessarily means they are “computer wizards”, nor it means they are learning highly valuable skills. One father rightly remind everyone that even we, grownups, many times have a hard time focusing. We sit on the computer needing to crank some code, and a few hours later, we’re still reading emails, updating our Facebook status or trying to correct one more person that is wrong on the Internet! Although it is important that they can explore, kids dealing alone with the digital world won’t magically know how to find more meaningful entertainment.
Keeping up with kids digital activities can be a lot harder for parents that don’t have a technical background. That’s why I brought to the discussion the experiments done by Sugata Mitra in his “Hole in the Wall” project. Sugata experimented how kids learn by themselves, and his studies give us some great insights on how we can help our own children to explore and learn things. Many from my generation did experiment that, when we started learning computers when it was a mystery, and our parents supported us, even not knowing what that thing was. We need to support our kids the same way: coach them and probe them to explore and build.
Build. Ship. Look for meaningful entertainment.
Because in the end, it does boils down to building. The Internet is an infinite source of easy, effortless entertainment, that won’t add anything to our kids. We need to encourage them to build, to take the effort of doing something, and delivering what they created. Steve Job’s quote “real artist ship” comes to mind here: “shipping”, be it a video we shoot and edited or a small app we developed, is an important skill for our children to learn. And the Internet is also the most amazing publishing platform, that can give our kids infinite resources to express and build. But we need to help them choose the harder, but more satisfying, entertainment, by building instead of simply watching.
At the Devoxx4Kids-4-Parents discussion, we touched in all of this and more. An amazing example of helping our children succeed in things we don’t know about came from Maricy Padilha, when she told us the experience she had with her son. She had tried to get him interested in sports and music and a host of other things that she knew about, but when he wanted to learn computers, she helped him find training (at Globalcode), and he started down a path that she didn’t understand, but that didn’t prevent her from supporting, spending time, and being proud of him (and with him!). During Devoxx4Kids, her now 15 years old son, Pedro, was a co-instructor, helping out Vinicius Senger on the IoT classes.
Time is better than toys. True in the Internet too!
Parents highlighted the importance of spending time with our children, like Marcelo Souza, that told us about when he gave his 8-year-old son his first computer. Starting with a beaten down computer, he and his son worked together to clean, rebuild, reinstall, remake the computer. The time you spend with your kid is more important then the price or the capabilities of the machine. Marcelo has now built a RaspberryPi computer, that he and his son can hack on both hardware and software, and they are now working together on programming. Marcelo said that by having a less generic computer, built specifically to teach programming, it helps cut down on all the distractions, what paradoxically, gives his son more freedom to experiment and explore what really matters.
Kids know what they like. Listen. Adjust.
Karina Souza and I talked a bit about what we do with our kids at home, where we host computer classes during Saturdays. We found out that having external friends joining in helps increase the excitement, and contrary to expectations, it also increases the focus on the activities. Sometimes we try to do things our way, meaning the best, but I learned that asking our daughters what they like and what they don’t is very insightful. They know exactly! Our kids prefer activities where they try to solve a problem together, instead of the times they each have to do their own thing. They also prefer to go after larger projects, with several little problems to solve, instead of learning from the little disconnected, educational only activities. It is interesting that Sugata Mitra’s research shows exactly this, but my kids had to tell me before I really “got it”.
More resources to come…
From the things me and my wife tried to everything other parents suggested, we gathered a nice list of resources. There is an wealth of good stuff out there for parents to help their kids going into programming and computers. Since this post is already too long, I’ll compile a list of what we got, and will add as a separated post, to make it easy for parents to find and refer.
Time flew during the discussions, and when we least expected, the Devoxx4Kids-4-Parents activities got to the end. The laughter and noise of the kids outside in the corridor is impossible to ignore, specially since parents have a special ear for that. Before we knew, we all joined them in that moment of happiness! Devoxx4Kids planted the seed. It was amazing to be part of it and we hope that the enjoyment and the energy that parents and kids received that hot, sunny, summer-day Sunday will continue to bring us closer to our kids, so we can learn and build with them the future wonders of the digital world!
Many thanks to the Devoxx4Kids team, for making this possible. And thanks to the amazing friends Yara and Vinicius Senger, for hosting and putting together a memorable event, that will improve each one of our families!
P.S.: There are many more pictures of the event here!