Touchable, Tangible Code

By Mr. Matthew Mah, Head of Educational Technology, Junior School

Making code touchable and tangible for children connects the dots between software and hardware and imagination to reality. Seeing results of algorithms and procedures applied to physical environments solidifies the effects of good planning and creativity.

In primary years with Ms. Shaw, students used sequencing, conditions and procedures to guide a fuzzy Kodable ball through mazes. They extrapolated these concepts into a physical layout by creating handheld mazes using paper straws and paper plates. Prototypes were manufactured using sketches and grid paper.

Mr. Lam guided his students through the topsy-turvy world of 3D printing using mazes. Design of personal mazes began with creation of minimum-viable products: simple mazes made with paper walls that could be used for testing and visualization. They then used a voxel engine to manually design three-dimensional nodes of branching walls with a single entrance and exit. Completed digital models were printed on our 3D printers and playable using ball bearings.

Intermediate students were the first to use our newest Edison robots. These small and affordable robots can be programmed using a variety of child-friendly programming languages, including Scratch and Python. They are also compatible with Lego bricks, making machine coding and building simple and quick. Students tested their durability by constructing Sumobots, robots designed to push another Edison out of the ring.

Electronics design is an excellent opportunity to produce simple machines and learn the importance of proper circuitry. Microbit controllers can be coded to control simple servo motors using jumper cables and display visual feedback. Students were quick learners in wiring diagrams and how to apply alligator clips without getting pinched!

It’s wonderful to witness the fascination children have with building things with their own hands. Our technology teachers love showing them that code has a place in that fabrication and creativity spirit.