littleBits Code Kit leverages kids love of games to learn to code. It uses Google Blockly which has rapidly become a popular visual editor. My favorite line from a teacher so far is that littleBits Code Kit is “better than recess”, citing a situation where students would rather stay in the classroom and invent with Code Kit instead of going out to recess.
littleBits Code Kit is shipping today and aimed at kids in grades 3 to 8, although this 51-year old big kid is getting one also.
On Saturday I went to two films at the Boulder International Film Festival – Code: Debugging the Gender Gap and A Good American. Both were excellent and worth watching, but Code was special for me as its an issue I’ve been helping work on for over a decade.
When I joined the National Center for Women & Information Technology board as the chair in 2005, it was a nascent organization and the issue of the small number of women in computer science, while often talked about, wasn’t well understood. Today, not only is the issue well understood, but many of the solutions are clear and being talked openly about, such as in the article At Harvey Mudd College, the Ratio of Women in Computer Science Increased from 10% to 40% in 5 Years
While there is still a ton of work to do, I asserted at a recent NCWIT board meeting that I felt we were at a tipping point and we’d start to see rapid improvement on the number of women in computer science in the next decade. Movies like Code make me optimistic that not only are we figuring out what is going on, but we are getting the word out and having some real impact on the issue.
The video from the second panel I was on at Google I/O 2010 – Technology, innovation, computer science, & more: A VC panel – is up. Dick Costolo – the COO of Twitter – is the moderator and my fellow panelists are Albert Wenger, Chris Dixon, Dave McClure, and Paul Graham. Someone didn’t like the title so it was renamed “VCs Who Code” but apparently that didn’t stick with the official event panel namers.
While I stopped writing production code in the early 1990’s, I still fuck around with something each summer when I’m in Alaska (in past years it has been Perl, Ruby, and PHP.) I haven’t decided what it is going to be this year, but it’ll probably be Python as I’m seriously considering taking 6.189 using MIT OpenCourseWare.
For the curious ones in the crowd, I’m a self declared “excellent BASIC programmer.” When I got my Apple ][ in 1979 the only choices were BASIC and 6502 Assembler. I learned each, but only wrote commercial software on the IBM PC in BASIC (and compiled BASIC, back when getting a BASIC program to compile was a trick in and of itself) between 1983 and 1985 (using Btrieve as the database manager.) By 1986 I was doing a lot more work in Dataflex and Pascal. At MIT, I learned Scheme (via 6.001) and was ok with it, but never did any production work with LISP even though every time I looked at a Symbolics machine I drooled. I learned a handful of other languages in school, such as CLU and IBM System/370 Assembler (and something on a Prime computer – I can’t remember what) but never used any of it outside a class. Feld Technologies did most of its work with Clarion, although I never really learned it well enough to do anything production quality since by that point I wasn’t coding regularly anymore. While I was proficient with a bunch of database languages such as dBase, Paradox, and R:Base, I never liked any of them and we never really wrote production systems in them (although we took over and managed a lot of crap that other people had tried to write.) Oh – and I was pretty good with Lotus 1-2-3 Macros.
In some parallel universe, I sit in front a computer all day and write code.