Here are some stories and observations that contributed to the motivation for this project.
August 2014. I just moved to a new city - to a lovely low-slung apartment complex surrounding an open grass square with swings and a jungle gym. I expected to be woken up the next morning, and every morning, to the sound of children playing and calling and laughing and crying.
The next morning was a beautiful summer day. But not a child to be seen (or heard)! Where are they? Why can't I hear any children from several hundred apartments?!
I guess the sound of tiny fingers on touch screens simply doesn't carry.
July 2014. I was recently on a lovely summer vacation. We spent our days on the beach and by the pool, and ate at restaurants.
Everywhere we could see families with children.
And everywhere just about every child was engrossed with his or her own digital device - playing games or checking or updating something online.
But them, the adults were also constantly busy with their devices!
Conrad Wolfram gave an amazing talk on Ted (July 2010) about teaching kids real math with computers.
He pointed out that current schooling teaches kids to more or less do what calculators and computational software does, only the software is much faster and more accurate than humans can ever be.
On the other hand, to little emphasis is placed on the ability to understand and solve real-world problems, something humans excel at and computers are unable to do.
He further pointed out that possibly the best medium for training youth to find and express solutions to problems is through programming - simply writing code!
The company We Want To Know has created an amazing program; a game that teaches kids algebra implicitly.
It is quite devious in its methodology: It starts by introducing the basic goal of the game, and then takes the user through level after level of the game - very much like the block-buster Angry Birds did.
And, like Angry Birds, it also gradually introduces new characters and rules while at the same time increasing the difficulty, until your 10-year old is solving high school level algebraic equation that most grown-ups simply would have no idea how to start solving.
And all the while simply playing a game for points and levels!
The last few years (2010-14) I spent traveling from school to school helping teachers get classrooms full of 16 year olds started using a specific piece of software.
Now this generation of kids has grown up with the internet, and are often referred to as "digital natives".
However, what I found was that, while they were quick and unafraid to download and try the software, the moment they met any technical issues, they were mostly unable to deduce its cause and try to solve it.
They simply didn't have enough basic understanding of technology to even have any idea of whether or not it was solvable by them.
(In this case, it was usually that audio from the PC microphone didn't reach the software, and the solution was to simply open the operating system control panel and make sure the correct input source was selected and the input level turned up.)
As I watch all these kids using their tablets and phones masterfully - downloading and playing games, taking photos and communicating with their friends and family, listening to music and watching movies and film clips - I am struck by one thought:
No one is creating anything. Not a thing!
They are all accessing and consuming and communicating. But except for playlists and short messages, nothing is being created!
Who will build our software and hardware in the future? We are raising a generation of consumers who mostly don't have a clue about how the software or hardware they are using 24/7 actually works, and whom mostly couldn't write a single line of script even if their very lives depended on it!
All over Scandinavia beautiful science centers are being built - as monuments to the importance of teaching and engaging children in the sciences. They have beautiful interactive exhibitions, and are always full of school classes on field trips, or families; children with parents or grandparents.
But once you (the youth) have been to the center and seen and interacted with everything, what then? What will bring you back time after time? What will give you a deeper learning and understanding of specific subjects or topics, and deepen your interest and knowledge?
Perhaps ongoing evening classes in different subjects for different levels/ages could be taught on a regular basis at such centers - spanning from biology, through chemistry and physics to math - and of course computer programming.
Better yet; robotics programming!
My brother-in-law came back from France a few years ago carrying a large box. In the box was an early version of the AR Drone - a 4-rotor flying vehicle - controllable from a phone or tablet.
Wow! I was blown away. Not just because it was quite easy to control and fly, but because it had such possibilities!
It had 2 cameras, visual signal-processing hardware, and a WiFi base built in. Flying it was fun - for about 10 minutes. But what blew my mind was what if I could write software for it, which could not only control its movements, but make it behave a certain way relative to what it "saw" through its cameras?! I could basically turn it into a (semi-)autonomous robot!
I then also discovered that the developers behind this "toy" had anticipated just such an interest, and are actively supporting programmers in this endeavor by providing them with an "API" - a standard way of communicating with the device from ones own software.
And yes, as soon as one of the engines got broken and needed repair, I commandeered the Drone, and it has been sitting in its box next to my bed, waiting for George to become a reality.
Even better, a perusal of local technology shops reveals that there is now a whole host of such "toys" - with different capabilities and at different prices - everything from small battery driven cars to palm-sized spheres that roll, glow, and sense movement.
The possibilities are endless!
I got my first computer some years back. After figuring out how to use it - organizing documents and folders, playing games and using other software - my next quest was to try to write some code that would make it do stuff.
But I was unsuccess. Back then I simply wasn't able to figure out how to get started.
A few years later I signed up for an HTML course. I learned how to write some basic HTML tags and some CSS - and low-and-behold - my "commands" were being interpreted and executed by the computer!
Hurrah! I was programming!
Now some might argue that HTML is not truly programming, as HTML markup isn't "Touring complete".
But in my mind this is programming; writing instructions that are then interpreted by a machine.
It was magic!
From there, I went on to study computer sciences at a college for 4 years, and have since worked as a software developer for some years.
But you know what? It is still magic!
I now know how the machine and the software works on every level, I know how to write code to make my computer do exactly what I want it to do, and why something does or does not work. And yet it still gives me a thrill every time it does work.