Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Computer that You Can Program: How Novel

In a big-boxy toy store I noticed what might be called kids' computers. These are laptop form-factor devices made for kids, that include age-appropriate pseudo-educational games.

These devices are sophisticated, with full keyboards, card slots, USB connectivity, mice, touch screens and touch pads in some cases... and benefiting from overseas production in mass quantities, they range in price from around $30 to $90. This page, if you scroll all the way to the bottom and look at the last three rows, shows the devices I'm talking about.

I'm standing there thinking, "Sweet!" ... How cool would it have been to have one of these to work on when I was a kid, programming a Color Computer 2 that cost over $500 inflation-adjusted (about $250 at the time). I learned more from programming the CoCo than from any software I could have run on it. And I believe that any child will learn more from creating with a computer than from some "shape drill" or "math drill" software. Just as I give my son blocks and Lego bricks to build with, I wondered if these inexpensive laptop wonder toys had a code mode, where the child could write a program, in Logo, BASIC, Squeak or anything else.

So far as I can tell, after reading through the manual (published online) for VTech's top-of-the-line Color Blast Notebook, there is no opportunity for programming this device. The manual for the Touch Tablet notebook (which supports PC connectivity) also shows a huge list of interesting built-in programs and utilities (including a whole category of "math and logic"), but no programming language.

With Logo and Squeak, programming can be as fun and easy as using Lego blocks. Making kids' computers impenetrable objects featuring only software that is published to them, rather than created by them, makes about as much sense as teaching kids about shapes but never giving them a crayon and letting them draw.

1 comment:

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