More than 50 toddlers group together on the floor on front of a robot no more than two feet tall. Bibli is the brainchild of Jalali Hartman, and designed with help from students across Boulder County. “We try to teach the basics of a network and how you control a network. The base is a low-cost robot kit and allows anybody to have a robot for cheap.”
Bibli drives by itself and talks by itself. But, as Hartman tells the kids who surround his creation, “it’s only as smart as you because a robot will only do what you tell it to do.”
And that is the point: learning to tell computers – and by extension, robots – what to do by way of coding. Hartman and his Biblis are part of a week-long event going on at the Boulder Public Library. CSED, or Computer Science Education week is a national event now in its 9th year. The library has upwards of 30 events throughout the week aimed at children and adults. Many of the events are for newbies, and some of the events don’t even require a computer. However, all the programs emphasize the tenants of coding: logic and sequencing of computational thinking.
“It stretches our brains, helps with problem solving, and expands how we think about the world in order to create and design,” explains Kathy Lane, the Events and Outreach Coordinator with Boulder Public Library. The Computer Science Unplugged class takes away the screen and turns parents into the computers while the kids act as coders. “So, if you want the parent to go pick up the toy that’s in that direction,” Lane says with sweeping gestures, “you have to say ‘turn left. Walk three paces. Turn right. Bend down. Open your hand. Pick it up.’ So, it can be really fun and engaging between kids and their parents.”
In addition to bossing around their parents, learning coding can be instrumental across many disciplines. “Exposing kids to technology might lead them to an interest in math,” says Lane. “If I had known that math was such a foundational aspect of computing, or robots, I would have been far more interested in it in school if it had a direct application to what I wanted to achieve or do or explore or create as an artist.”
Of course, the kids don’t get to have all the fun. There are targeted programs just for adults. Sip and Code is an introductory coding class designed just for women. The Impact of Computer Science Education on the Latino Community discusses how to appeal to a more diverse group and help expand opportunities in non-white communities. Finally, the International Scratch Collaboration event is a partnership with a village in Uganda.
The week culminates with “CodeFest” where young and old can create apps, code robots, design stories, play music, and bring toys to life (make action figures talk).
For a complete list of events, check CSEd Week at boulderlibrary.org.