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Training and Development

Teaching An (Adult) Child To Code

The UK government has made coding a core part of the school curriculum. In an effort not to look thick and play with some toys, Dan Swinhoe documents his trials and tribulations of learning to code using Kano, a Raspberry Pi kit for kids…

Day 1: Wherein the Kano arrives in the post

“It’s Colourful!”

“Look at all the stuff to play with!”

[Attempts to build things without reading instructions.]

[Abandons attempt for fear of breaking things.]

“STICKERS!”

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Day 2: The Kano is built and turned on

You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to find a monitor with a HDMI cable would you?

Day 3: The Kano is – actually – built and turned on

HDMI monitor is finally set up, and it’s time to go!

The Raspberry Pi board is all set up, so all that’s required is to slot in the peripherals: Wi-Fi, Speaker, Memory card, Keyboard etc. The Booklet takes you through it step-by-step and explains what you’re doing and why.

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At last the moment comes to switch the Kano on. The lights flicker, and a black screen makes way for and orange Matrix-like screen. It then pops into life with a friendly “Hello” and prompt for my name.

A couple of basic prompts pop up to check the keyboard and mouse work (dragging the Kano mascot, “Judoka” across the screen, typing a couple of commands) - it’s all very new and bright and exciting.

Unfortunately all the buzz from finally connecting to the Wi-Fi [followed by the nudge to try the “Ping www.Google.com” command and a small amount of pride when it works] was quickly quashed by a 15-minute software update. It might give me time to collect my thoughts on the most exciting five minutes of the last month… but children may well be bored – even if you provide a variety of “did you know?”-style facts to pass the time.

A quick sound test and reboot later and we’re finally home!

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Next comes the profile making – “Wizard” as a gender option is genius - where your achievement (Badges, Backgrounds, new avatars) will be saved. Finally we’re given a quick video tour of the desktop and available programs/options, and we’re now out in the big bad world!

Initial Thoughts:

The Hardware

It’s colourful, it’s simple, yet you really feel like you’ve accomplished something. It’s dinky and cute, but if I feel like I’ve achieved something from snapping some plastic together and slotting in a USB, the kids will love it. Despite nerves about snapping the plastic shell, it actually all feels pretty sturdy. Considering the aesthetics are part of the appeal and you’re going to want it all in front of you, the HDMI cable is massively long and really gets in the way.

The keyboard, though very nicely designed, clearly isn’t built for grown up fingers. I’ve not got fat fingers, but I still had to very carefully think about every letter. The fact that the trackpad was on one side and the left/right click buttons were on the other side also led to me typing like I was a six-year-old all over again.

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The Software

The Kano is bright and appealing, with lots of praise and exclamation marks and generally feels rewarding, even for small things.  The Gamification element is a great idea and gives visible proof of your progress.

Initially you’re given the options of making Snake, Pong, Minecraft and a DJ option, and as soon as I’m logged in I’m getting notifications about upcoming challenges from the Kano team. The web browser’s default favourites are to sites such as Code with Art and Code.org, so there’s plenty of scope for going beyond what the Kano comes pre-loaded with.

There’s a decent range of apps available from the off: Aside from the make-your-own games, there’s the usual calculator, text editor, web browser, media player, PDF viewer and a couple of others. The Kano site has its own App store with additional options such as Gmail and its own Open Office. From watching the loading screen and a brief play on the desktop, the whole thing seems a tad on the slow side, but it’s a small quibble.

So far, I feel like an over-excited child full of hope and expectation. We’ll see how it all pans out.

Tune in for part two soon, where we make Snake and Pong!

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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