Getting kids interested in programming, robotics, and engineering | Opensource.com

Getting kids interested in programming, robotics, and engineering

Posted 17 Jul 2014 by 

Jason Baker (Red Hat)
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It's easy to get kids interested in technology when the technology is fun! And the options out there for fun outlets for kids to learn is growing every day. From building robots to programming games to building your own electronics, the line between play and learning is steadily blurring, and what's more, many of these platforms are built on open source.

Meet Arun Gupta. He is Director of Developer Advocacy at Red Hat, where he focuses on JBoss Middleware. But when Gupta's not at work, one of his passions is the Devoxx4Kids program (he founded the United States chapter). Gupta will be speaking next week at OSCON, where he'll share his experience with Devoxx4Kids and provide some pointers for other parents wishing to get their kids involved.

In this interview, we learned what Devoxx4Kids is all about, the children it reaches, and how you can get started with a chapter in your area.

Tell us about Devoxx4Kids! What is it, and how did you first get involved?

Devoxx4Kids is a global organization with a goal to introduce school kids to programming, robotics and engineering in a fun way. This is achieved by organizing sessions where children can develop computer games, program robots and also have an introduction to electronics. Different chapters around the world have conducted workshops on Scratch, Greenfoot, Alice, Minecraft modding, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Python, NAO robots, and a variety of other topics.

Devoxx is a professional developer conference based out of Europe. The founders of the conference tried to teach their kids on what they do for living and realized most of the material is in English, and not in their local language. That led to the birth of Devoxx4Kids. I've been speaking at the conference for a few years now and have delivered kids workshops for over a year now. I know the organizers for a few years and so it was very logical for me to build upon the effort and bring it to the USA.


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I founded the US chapter and its a non-profit and 501(c)(3) organization. A team helps me drive the Bay Area chapter and we've conducted several workshops here. You can take a look at them at our website. You can find more about the organization there.

It sounds like there are projects for a wide range of ages. How young does Devoxx4Kids reach?

Our workshops are targeted at kids from elementary to high school. Each workshop provides the recommended age and we've seen these are generally well honored by the attendees. Each workshop generally has a few volunteers to help the attendees move along.

Each country has a different way to reach out to local attendees. Bay Area chapter reaches out using Meetup. Belgium, Holland, UK, and other countries use Eventbrite. And then these workshops are promoted using usual social media channels.

Devoxx4Kids sessions have been delivered at different technology conferences around the world as well. We also have a free video channel that allows us to expand our reach beyond the physical workshops.

So far, we've conducted about 120 workshops around the world with over 2,000 kids, and 30% of them are girls. We are very proud of that and certainly seeing interests in opening chapters in different parts of world. Take a look at our website if you are interested in opening a chapter.

We encourage parents to let the kids explore on their own as kids become a lot more independent, apply their own wonderful mind to solve problems, and also helps a lot in morale boosting. Parents do stay with the kids in some workshops though and help kids catch up and move along with rest of the attendees. This is especially true if younger kids are participating in a workshop which has a lot more elder kids.

Most of the times it's been an enriching experience, both for the attendees and us as the instructors. Every workshop is a new learning.

What is the most kid-created, exciting project you've encountered so far?

Each workshop has a different level of excitement and the sparkle in attendees' eyes is priceless. However there are certain workshops where the excitement level is high. Minecraft modding definitely stands out very prominently. We've seen some really creative mods from first time Minecrafters in the modding class. That is very encouraging!

Scratch workshop is a big hit for kids in elementary/middle school. Their interaction with Leapmotion and ability to control sprites in Scratch using their hands is very exciting for them.

You're giving another talk on Java EE 7. How can we bridge the gap so that skills learned in Devoxx4Kids continue into future careers as programmers or other related fields?

Our goal is to expose technology to kids at an early age and more importantly in a fun way. Hopefully this will motivate them to stay engaged as they grow. In some of our workshops, we also make parents from hi-tech industry talk about their successful careers. This allows the kids to connect the dots from what they are doing to where they can be, hopefully. We only try to motivate kids and show them options when they are raw. What they ultimately choose in their career, could be completely different. But I'd like to say "If not us, then who. If not now, then when."

Without giving too much away, what are some of the tips and best practices you plan to discuss for workshop organizing?

If you are a newbie runner, then there are tons of questions. How much distance should I run? What should I eat? How many days/week I should train? What kind of cross-train ? Shoes, GPS, protein/fat/carbs ratio. And the list is endless.

Similarly organizing workshop for the first time could be overwhelming but we've delivered several of them all around the world. This particular session will be answering questions like what does it take to run a workshop, what topic would be relevant, how many attendees should be invited, how to get volunteers, where is the training material, t-shirts, swag, sponsors, and similar questions.

Is there anything else you'd like do add?

I'm personally thankful to O'Reilly for giving us an opportunity to talk about Devoxx4Kids at OSCON. We are also organizing OSCON Kids Day on the Sunday before OSCON and so motivating more kids.

Do check out our website and let us know if you are interested in opening a chapter.

View the complete collection of OSCON speaker interviews.

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Jason is passionate about using technology to make the world more open, from software development to bringing sunlight to local governments. He is particularly interested in data visualization/analysis, DIY/maker culture, simulations/modeling, geospatial technologies, and cloud computing, especially OpenStack. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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