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Pimp My Legos: Teaching Kids to Program

Uh-oh -- the SXSW proposal I rashly cooked up last summer has been accepted, and now I have to do something about it.

Fellow geek parent Chris Hyams and I were musing about our early programming experiences and wondering how best to give a similar opportunity to our computer-mad daughters. We're not alone in the impression that experiencing computers solely through GUI applications results in a more limited relationship with technology than if one also has the experience of writing code in a procedural language, and furthermore that today's immersive computing environments give kids less opportunity to make the step up from user to programmer than the more constrained computing environments we started out with. Call it In the Beginning was the Command Line meets Why Johnny Can't Code. Or, carrying a deck of punch cards barefoot through the snow builds character.

One thing led to another and we submitted the following proposal to SXSW:

Pimp My Legos: Teaching Kids to Program

Children famously pick up consumer technology faster than grownups, but what about real programming? Geek parents and educators discuss and demo the best platforms for fostering skillz in kidz, from LOGO turtle programming to Lego Mindstorms, from BASIC to HTML, Flash, Perl and Ruby.

It's four busy months later and we find ourselves having to put our PowerPoints where our mouths are. In addition to the experiments we are planning on our own captive guinea pigs, we're looking for two or three co-panelists in the Austin area with extensive experience teaching programming to (say) 16-and-under kids. Despite the reference to Legos in the title, we want the focus of the panel to be about software, not just killer robots (although we certainly hope to have a Mindstorms person on board). We have some sources of panelists in mind, but we hope word of mouth will provide us with more. Suggestions?

P.S.: Despite the complaint in the Salon piece that it's hard to find a BASIC interpreter these days, it looks like Chipmunk BASIC will do the trick for MacOS. Now if I can just dig up my old stash of Creative Computings, we'll have a rousing session of Hunt the Wumpus...

Update: Alas, other obligations have interfered and I've had to withdraw the panel proposal. It's possible that Chris may pull it out of the fire, but at this point it looks like it's canceled. The idea seemed to go over well -- if you're looking for a good topic idea for 2008, feel free to steal this one!

kids 2006.11.13 link