Project Bloks: Making code physical for kids

Originally posted on A birdseye view of the customisable and reconfigurable Project Bloks system

The Project Bloks system is made up of three core components the “Brain Board”, “Base Boards” and “Pucks”. When connected together they create a set of instructions which can be sent to connected devices, things like toys or tablets, over wifi or Bluetooth.

The three core components of the Project Bloks system

Pucks: abundant, inexpensive, customisable physical instructionsPucks are what make the Project Bloks system so versatile. They help bring the infinite flexibility of software programming commands to tangible programming experiences. Pucks can be programmed with different instructions, such as ‘turn on or off’, ‘move left’ or ‘jump’. They can also take the shape of many different interactive forms—like switches, dials or buttons. With no active electronic components, they’re also incredibly cheap and easy to make. At a minimum, all you’d need to make a puck is a piece of paper and some conductive ink.

Pucks allow for the creation and customisation of endless amount of different domain-specific physical instructions cheaply and easily.

Base Boards: a modular design for diverse tangible programming experiencesBase Boards read a Puck’s instruction through a capacitive sensor. They act as a conduit for a Puck’s command to the Brain Board. Base Boards are modular and can be connected in sequence and in different orientations to create different programming flows and experiences.

The modularity of the Base Boards means they can be arranged in different configurations and flows

Each Base Board is fitted with a haptic motor and LEDs that can be used to give end-users real time feedback on their programming experience. The Base Boards can also trigger audio feedback from the Brain Board’s built-in speaker. Brain Board: control any device that has an API over WiFi or BluetoothThe Brain Board is the processing unit of the system, built on a Raspberry Pi Zero. It also provides the other boards with power, and contains an API to receive and send data to the Base Boards. It sends the Base Boards’ instructions to any device with WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity and an API. As a whole, the Project Bloks system can take on different form factors and be made out of different materials. This means developers have the flexibility to create diverse experiences that can help kids develop computational thinking: from composing music using functions to playing around with sensors or anything else they care to invent.

The Project Bloks system can be used to create all sorts of different physical programming experiences for kids

The Coding KitTo show how designers, developers, and researchers might make use of system, the Project Bloks team worked with IDEO to create a reference device, called the Coding Kit. It lets kids learn basic concepts of programming by allowing them to put code bricks together to create a set of instructions that can be sent to control connected toys and devices—anything from a tablet, to a drawing robot or educational tools for exploring science like LEGO® Education WeDo 2.0.

What’s next?We are looking for participants (educators, developers, parents and researchers) from around the world who would like to help shape the future of Computer Science education by remotely taking part in our research studies later in the year. If you would like to be part of our research study or simply receive updates on the project, please sign up. If you want more context and detail on Project Bloks, you can read our position paper. Finally, a big thank you to the team beyond Google who’ve helped us get this far—including the pioneers of tangible learning and programming who’ve inspired us and informed so much of our thinking.

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