Thursday, August 03, 2006

Easy Programming - Part 1, Squeak

I remember growing up and being able to type in Basic Programs on computers and type run and they would. It was really easy as the Basic programming language was integrated into the operating system. While my brothers and I were in elementary school (4th and 5th grade) we'd walk up to a display computer in K-Mart and type in a program to fill the screen with our names. It was easy and fun.

Today, programming is much more difficult. You need some sort of program to compile your program into a form that will run. Entering into programming today is much more daunting then it was when I was young.

I've been playing around with a couple easy to use tools to help teach programming visually. I really want to get my son (whose entering 4th grade this year) into programming. There are a few tools out there that allow programming by dragging and dropping blocks that lock together to build a program. This allows novice programmers to write simple programs very quickly while learning the basics of programming structure.

I keep waiting for a language called Scratch to be released, but the release date recently changed from "this summer" to "later this year". So, as Scratch isn't available yet I downloaded Squeak instead.

I turned my 8 year old son loose and he had a lot of fun. I found some cool projects at Squeadland specifically designed for kids. In a very short amount of time he had created a small car programmed it to drive around the screen, then he added a steering wheel in-order to control it himself. He really enjoyed playing with Squeak. My next task will be to challenge him a little. Maybe make the car turn the opposite direction he steers or drop him into the other sample projects from the site.

I did run into a couple of finicky bits, but for the most part Squeak is really easy to use and can be a lot of fun.

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