Children can begin to approach robots and programming early on, but to be creative, ages 12-16 are quite a special age. The kids at this age usually experience a lot of development from physiological status to recognition of new ideas and thinking about society and life. It is time for children and parents to discover their own abilities and strengths. They can create their own technology products or make useful robots based on their daily needs.
1. How can the kids make real products?
In Part 1 and Part 2 of the article, the author introduced skills to familiarize product thinking and programming, in this part, you will have to be more proactive, creative and make things more real. To make a product, young people need skills from mechanics (like a skeleton), electronics (like nerves) to programming (like brains), and synthesizing skills from learned knowledge to make finished products.
Construction of external shapes of the product
Product texture, from the idea of turning into a product. This is the first step for kids to be able to make the product, who have been familiar with the assemblies and the puzzles. These are thinking about forming, assembling according to a particular idea or desire. When entering secondary school, kids can start creating products that are more realistic, instead of pieces.
There are 3 steps to creating a product – design – tool selection – shaping. Today there are many tools for small children to design a product, simple visual 3D design tools such as Sketchup tinkercad, autodesk’s 123d, 3dtin, shapesmith,… Currently, the most common tool used is Tinkercad, a software designed by AutoDesk which can be designed online easily. In addition, many libraries are available, such as Unity with ProBuilder, Sculptris, MeshMixer, Wings 3D, FreeCAD, Blender …
After designing, the product can be software or paper, you will have to choose a tool to create the shape. The previous generations, the forming tools were simply knives, chisels, saws,… Today there are many simple machines that can help you create shapes from designs such as 3D printers, laser cutters… From STL 3D design file, you will be converted to CAM file, G-Code for a machine to understand. These files will be taken to 3D printers to create accurate designs in a very short time.
A 3D printer on the market today is quite cheap, costing only 5 million to 10 million, and we can easily buy a personal printer. Medium range printers typically cost between 50 and 100 million such as Maker Bot, Ulti Maker. The principle of operation of a universal 3D printer is simple, including fiber-like plastic rolls, the heating head will heat plastic fibers; The nozzle will be automatically controlled by the control system following the G-code to release the melted plastic to form. The resolution, the sophistication of the product depends on the quality of the printer and plastic printing, which in turn leads to different prices and product quality.
If you have no conditions to buy printers, you can use online printing services, popular international sites such as Shapeways, Ponoko, Sculpteo … In Vietnam, there are also many printing establishments with prices from 50,000 to 100,000 for one hour of 3D printing.
Electronics – embedded computers
This is a device system that helps mechanical designs work, and is likened to nerves in the human body. Engines help structures to move, sensors help products read the information outside the environment like human senses. The embedded computer is a central device that helps inventors read the signal from the environment and control the device automatically. There are many simple and popular embedded computer devices on the world like Raspberry Pi 2, Raspberry Pi 3, Beaglebone black, Arduino nano, Arduino uno, Lego-NXT, Lilypad, Makey Makey…
With a PI embedded computer, it is possible for the kids to install a simple calculator that is as small as a palm. Inside is full of text editing software like Open Office, Scratch, Python programming tools,… From this computer, you can program thousands of open source products all over the world like robots and smart home.
Several large embedded computer communities in the world
Arduino is the world’s largest embedded computer community, with simple programming tools and open source electronic circuits. This is a product from an Italian lab for students, which later spread and became the world’s most popular embedded platform. Arduino is usually used for students and the DIY community only. The programming language on Arduino is quite similar to the C language. It also has a huge open source library from the community. Currently, there are many tools like MIT University, S4A, mBlock which are under the form of drag-and-drop languages for children to access. However, at the age of 14 to 15, you can switch to the language command as adults when you have mastered block programming thinking.
This is the task of creating the brains of products and robots. Any electronic products around us must be programmed. From printers, TVs, air-conditioners to rice cookers or handheld computers, they must be programmed for micro-embedded computers. Simple programming is the regulation of the working order of a device or product that is repetitive. The kids will programme in many different environments from the web, phone, computer, robot… to create innovative products. For every age and environment, we have different programming tools.
2. Programming languages for age 12 to university
Command line languages such as Java, C ++, C, Python, Processing, Basic,… are popular programming languages for ages 12 to university.
Processing is a language many international schools use for K7-K12. This is a cross-platform language that can support programming from web to mobile, hardware like PI computers. In addition, it has many add-ons to be compatible with popular languages like python, java, ruby. Students just need to know one language but work on many platforms. Some sources of reference: Processing.org; Learningprocessing.com.
Basic is a popular language on the window platform, a visual basic version developed by Microsoft used by many programmers. In addition, there is a programming version for word or excel called VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) which is used to smartly make word and excel documents, great help for the finance and accounting industry. Just press Alt + F11, then appears a programming world with the world’s most popular text editors, and can customize a lot of software on this platform.
Python is an easy-to-understand programming language. This language is currently used a lot from embedded programming (on Pi) to program artificial intelligence or cloud services. This is a language commonly used by beginners and scientists to test fast application algorithms. You can learn and test Python on learning tools and do online like Jupyter instead of installing software on your computer.
3. Common programming software
AgentSheets aims to make 3d games on the web for you 10-15 years old, this is a software from the very old 1991s that many young people know about. Children can refer at AgentSheets.com
Mobile software: with Android with MIT’s software, MIT App Inventor; iOS has the famous GameSalad Creator for building 2D games. Now MIT App Inventor is developing an iOS version, and GameSalad Creator is also available in Android-powered versions.
Web programming: the most popular language is HTML, there are also open source tools, with lots of tools and interfaces like Joomla, WordPress you can do web sales, web site class, web products, … easily without programming.
Chatbot drag and drop programming on the web: small children can create but have robots that can automatically chat on web and Facebook platforms easily. You just need to create yourself an account on the chat platform like Dialogflow or FPT.AI (Vietnamese). Build conversation scripts, build data and link to your facebook page or account.
With his quote “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” Benjamin Franklin advises you to do, then you will understand that you will learn easily and naturally. Every day, share or find new products in Maker communities like Thingiverse, Makezine, Instructable, Sylviashow. You could learn and make your own products and discover your abilities.
Le Ngoc Tuan – FPT Technology Innovation Department