The Ifs Make Learning To Code Child’s Play

Anyone who has done the slightest bit of programming knows about the “Hello, World!” program. It’s the archetypal program that one enters to get a feel for a new language or a new architecture; if you can get a machine to print “Hello, World!” back to you, the rest is just details. But what about teaching kids to program? How does one get toddlers thinking in logical, procedural ways? More particularly, what’s a “Hello, World!” program look like for the pre-literate set?

Those are the sort of questions that led to The Ifs by [Makeroni Labs]. The Ifs are educational toys for teaching kids as young as three the basics of coding. Each If is a colorful plastic cube with a cartoon face and a “personality” that reflects what the block does – some blocks have actuators, some have sensors. The blocks are programmed by placing magnetic tabs on the top representing conditions and actions. A kid might choose to program a block to detect when it’s being shaken, or when the lights come on, and then respond by playing a sound or vibrating. The blocks can communicate with each other too, so that when the condition for one block is satisfied, something happens on another block.

The Ifs look like a lot of fun, and they’re a great jumpstart on the logical thinking skills needed for coders and non-coders alike. We’re not alone in thinking this is a pretty keen project – the judges for this year’s Hackaday Prize selected The Ifs as one of the twenty finalists. Will it win? We’ll find out next week at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference. If you won’t be in Pasadena with us, make sure you tune in to the livestream to watch the announcement.

12 thoughts on “The Ifs Make Learning To Code Child’s Play

  1. Yet another ‘feed the bottom line’ educational gimmick.

    I am thinking that educators believe that reading and mathematical skills aid and abet each other; yet they provide the ever-so-elusive pathways to both logical algorithmic, and to building abstractions. But to master math and reading, we have to have decent schools. To have decent schools, we need good teachers. To have good teachers, we need pragmatically funded public school system. To have a pragmatically funded school system, we need well-educated voters. And to have well educated voters…..

    The America Dept of Defense burns through too much money, but they typically (not always) have something to show for it; whereas the public school system (at least here in California) spends most monies on teacher pensions and bloated administrative salaries.

    You need to take your simplistic ‘hello, world’ stuff and bury it before some idiot school administrator sees this as the latest educational fad. And educators need to stop thinking that the more simple educational approaches should be illegal.

      1. We are not mind-readers; nor do we have your depth of knowledge nor your expertise.

        Rather than a ‘throw-away’, ‘easy-with-no-substance’ comment such as this, for everyone’s enlightenment please consider providing solid details of this system the military uses.
        I’m certain that it would be highly informative for most everyone and make for very good reading.
        Many thanks.

    1. – Budget use is also a big issue – as much as I want to support property tax levies for schools, when they blow $1M on bleachers in a relatively small school system, but then come up short for the basics, it’s kind of hard…. Athletics are important for physical activity and well-being, but come on, we don’t need professional sports stadiums for high school, or even younger. Schools aren’t (in my opinion) for grooming pro-athletes. That seems about as useful a pursuit as blowing money to try to train pop music stars. At least until teachers are reasonably well paid, to the point teachers who could do a good job would actually want the job, rather than going elsewhere to make ends meet instead, chill out with the athletics spending. Though colleges don’t help matters any with their athletics scholarships… The whole system seems silly, how many people actually do anything with the gobs and gobs of time invested into athletics past college? Why are the students going to college to learn something for a career funding free rides for athletes?

    2. To have well prepared students entering school – start by making a full range of family planning services and contraceptives readily affordably available to everyone.
      About half of pregnancies in the US are unintended.
      Children resulting from unintended pregnancies are (on average) less well prepared for school, don’t do as well, require more resources to educate (more discipline, more law enforcement, etc.)

      Contraceptives and family planning save money in healthcare, and in lots of other areas, and get the ball rolling toward better education.

    3. One profound moment of realising how logic and reasoning works can turn a life around and have more lasting effect than the rest of the education. If a single teacher / book / toy lead to such a moment, it is already a mission accomplished, against all odds, against an abysmal education system, a culture of low expectations and all that crap.

      The tragedy of education is that good teachers are not enough. You need brilliant teachers to make a difference. And they will always be in a short supply.

  2. It’s interesting the push for coding at a younger and younger age yet the great developments in technology came from people who didn’t learn “coding” or have stem/steam or what ever it was but learnt the basics and with out a computer built computers and put man on the moon. Squeezed an incredible amount out of the most basic of equipment. All the while literacy and numeracy are at an all time low.
    Make the teachers job easier cut out the crap and resource then to teach the basics and those that are inquisitive and want to learn will extend themselves.

    1. I suspect that all the people raging against the learn to code movement are insecure bootcamp “graduates” feeling threatened by the younger learners and feeling a need to inflate their worth. It’s kinda pathetic.

      You’re all missing the entire point of learning to code. It’s one of the best ways to improve literacy / numeracy / critical thinking skills, as it’s an early and fun introduction to the formal reasoning. Geometry may still be better in achieving these goals, but it’s arguably less fun for most learners.

      1. But that’s not the result that is been shown, literacy and numeracy skills are declining despite years (decades) of high level programs that are supposed to improve these things.

        There a no doubt these things are fun and exciting but the befit is not as great as is promoted.

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