November 18, 2016

Kids Day Out: From Curiosity to Creativity

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Kids on Computers
This year at LinuxCon North America in Toronto, The Linux Foundation partnered with MakerKids and Kids on Computers to organize a day-long event focused on getting school-aged children interested in learning more about computer programming.

This year at LinuxCon North America in Toronto, The Linux Foundation partnered with MakerKids and Kids on Computers to organize a day-long event focused on getting school-aged children interested in learning more about computer programming. The Kids Day workshops included projects around Linux, Arduino, robots, and more.

“Kids on Computers has participated at SCALE and OSCON in years past, but this was our first time at LinuxCon. We do lot of hands-on training with students, teachers, and communities where we install computer labs (we have 12 in Mexico!), but this was our very first conference-based workshop. We are excited to see our Linux Foundation partnership grow and very much appreciated the opportunity to be at LinuxCon and conduct this workshop,” said  Avni Khatri, President of Kids on Computers.

Kid’s talk: The future is open

I talked to some of the children and their parents participating in the event. Here, I am using only their first names to protect their privacy.

“It was a great opportunity for me to bring my daughter to work and expose her a little with what I do. It’s an excellent workshop that the Linux Foundation has come up along with LinuxCon,” said Bryan, an engineer with EMC.

His 9-year-old daughter, Adele, said that she has been using a computer forever. And she uses Linux, specifically Gentoo Linux. She uses it for playing games, researching for school, and for finding games, she told me. Adele and her dad also enjoy playing games that involve some coding.

Bryan said that, in his opinion, you should expose your kids to all kinds of things and find out what they like, and as soon as they can read, allow them to program or type on the keyboard. And if they like it, they like it. Adele was certainly excited about the workshop and said she had a lot fun.

Sean was also attending the event and brought his two kids, Matthias (11) and Naomi (13). Matthias uses his computer at home to play games, and he has done some programming in the school library and has participated in the Hour Of Code program. Naomi is a Chromebook and Android user and has done the Genius Hour program. Compared to her brother, she was much more excited about the workshop.

Sean said that he brought his children so they could enjoy the wider world of Linux and open source ecosystem and see what the nature of collaboration development is all about. He added that during the workshop, they would mostly be doing very basic, low-level stuff and get initial exposure to Linux. “I am hoping they will have some fun with Arduino and some of the whole maker culture stuff,” said Sean.

Kaden is 11 and uses a computer at home to do research for school projects and to play games. He hasn’t done any programming yet, but he came to the workshop to learn more about computers and learn how they work. His dad is a software engineer at IBM, who saw a great opportunity in bringing his son to the event. However, he doesn’t believe in pushing his son to learn anything about computers. “I think it’s a natural thing because he already has a lot of video games at home, so it’s up to him how he likes the programming and Linux or open source. All these concepts are new to him, so we will see.”

Khatri said 13 kids registered and 19 kids showed up for the workshop. “It was exciting to see so much enthusiasm around LinuxCon's first ever Kids Day, the workshop, and to see kids with engaged parents and older siblings working on the workshop activities,” said Khatri.

It’s not child’s play

It was a busy day for children. During the workshop kids learned how to do a Linux install where they tried Ubermix that’s a fork of Ubuntu with a turn-key 5 minute installation.

They also learned how to install software on Linux using Arduino IDE + Ardublock in preparation for the afternoon workshop with MakerKids. Graham from MakerKids brought over the Arduinos in the morning so the kids could test them.

The children also learned about networking. Tim Moody of Unleash Kids brought an Intel NUC with Internet in a Box (IIAB) installed and taught this portion. “The kids connected to the IIAB access point, accessed content and then used the local network to ping each other, SSH into each other's machines and SCP files,” said Khatri.

The children also did some scratch programming where they learned to use Scratch (for beginners) and write their name (for folks who already knew how to use Scratch).

According to Khatri, “The participants who attended the workshop were much more experienced than the kids we usually work with in Kids on Computers. They knew how to use a computer and some of them had used Scratch before as well. From what I could tell, none of them had installed Linux on a computer before or were very familiar with networking. Many were also new to Arduino and Arduino programming.”

Do we need such workshops?

These days kids are exposed to computers at a very early age. That’s a good and bad situation. It’s good in the sense that the next generation is getting comfortable with technologies that will be at the core of their lives, but most of these products are dumbed down closed source technologies that erect a wall between how things work and curious minds, locking them out of the immense knowledge of how things work. Thus, projects like Kids on Computers become even more important: These efforts can transform kids from consumers to creators.

“Many kids today have access to an immense amount of technology and we hope our efforts will help them begin their journey to create their own products and building upon technology they use,” said Khatri. “I feel like this workshop was on opportunity for the participants to learn what an Operating System is, how to install an OS, and learn a little bit about programming and networking. We also discussed free and open source software (FOSS) with the participants, how GNU/Linux is FOSS, and I hope something they began to understand from the workshop is the flexibility and power provided when code is easily accessible and modifiable.”

In the end, it turned out to be a really exciting experience. Khatri said the feedback from parents and kids was extremely positive. The parents were excited about what the kids were learning. “I especially loved seeing the kids' reactions as we taught them how to use SSH and they were able to connect to each other's machines and send messages over a local network we had in the room,” said Khatri.

That is kind of future we need, where we have complete access to the technologies that we use, and organizations like Kids on Computers and MakerKids help lay the foundation for that future. Let’s build a generation of dreamers and creators.

To learn more about Linux basics, check out the Introduction to Linux, Open Source Development, and GIT course from The Linux Foundation. 

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