Talking with a parent yesterday about kids’ use of computers. She felt that her kids were still too passive with computers, just turning it on and playing games, surfing, or chatting — but not really creating or learning.
I had an idea for a computer that would require kids to be creative to use it:
What if there was a computer that did nothing by default, but had all the building blocks to make it do anything, with a little effort?
Say you turn it on, and there are just some puzzle pieces on the screen, and some “HOW TO” instructions.
Want to browse the web? You need to connect the internet-connection block, HTML parsing block, and user interface block. Bundle them up, type a command to name it anything you want, give it an icon, and now you have a web browser program on your desktop forever... and you made it!
Want to chat with friends? You need to connect the internet-connection block, message-sending block, message-receiving block, smiley-face-making block, and user interface block. Bundle it up, type a command to name it anything you want, give it an icon, and now you have a chat program.
Maybe you could go back and add more blocks to your chat program, like a video-camera interface or file-sending interface.
All of this could be as easy as dragging puzzle pieces together, but each piece could have options for customizing, though the best options would only be available by editing the (easy) code. This would get kids used to the idea of programming, and seeing real results.
My first computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 in 1978. When you powered it up, it just gave you a black screen and a command prompt. It was up to you to learn how to type commands to make it do what you wanted. That sense of control and creativity would be useful again for kids.