Learn to code by tinkering

September 30, 2015 by wendy

Python Turtle Program
epicness by Delta MakerLab summer camper

I recently came across a paper written by Mitchel Resnick, head of the Scratch team, and Eric Rosenbaum, co-creator of MaKeyMaKey, called “Designing for Tinkerability” that caught my attention. It made me wonder. What is tinkering? Why is it important? And are there tools that teach coding which promote tinkering? Let’s find out!

What is tinkering?

According to Resnick and Rosenbaum, tinkering is playful, experimental, and iterative. It allows the learner to constantly explore, try new ideas, and refine their work. Instead of starting at the top with a concrete goal and working their way down, tinkerers start at the bottom by experimenting with different possibilities and work their way up to their goal.

Why is tinkering important?

Tinkering is important because it promotes creative thinking and resilience. Tinkerers learn to iterate, adapt, and take risks. It may seem like tinkering is aimless and tinkerers don’t fully understand what’s happening, but as Resnick and Rosenbaum point out, they understand bits and pieces that will eventually fit into a bigger picture.

Tinkerable coding tools

For a tool to be tinkerable, Resnick and Rosenbaum say that it must incorporate three key principles: immediate feedback, fluid experimentation, and open exploration. Here are a few websites that encourage tinkering for you to try.

  • Scratch – Scratch definitely implements all three principles. When coding in Scratch, you can click on blocks to immediately see what they do, it’s easy to get started, and you can create and share a variety of different projects.
  • Trinket – When writing a Python program in Trinket, you can click on the run button to see what your program does. You can also import modules like Turtle to build different kinds of projects. If you combine Trinket with Code Club projects, it’s also really easy to get started.
  • Thimble – Thimble by Mozilla is an online editor that allows you to create your own webpages. When you type in the editor on the left side of your screen, the preview of your webpage on the right updates straight away. They also have projects that you can remix into your own version so that you can get started quickly.

What is Arduino?

September 23, 2015 by wendy

Arduino Uno
Arduino Uno by Snootlab is licensed under CC by 2.0

Arduino is an open source platform for creating all types of electronic devices from flashing lights to flying robots. It consists of Arduino boards, Arduino software (IDE), and the Arduino programming language. The Arduino website is an excellent source of information. This article just highlights some of the key pieces of information to help you get started!

Arduino boards

When you have an Arduino board, you can connect different things to it like light sensors, buttons, motors, and LEDs. Depending on your project, you’ll want to choose the right board, but how do you choose?

If you’re just getting started, the most basic board is the Arduino Uno. However, if you have a specific project in mind, you’ll want to make sure that the board you choose has everything you need. Take a look at the different boards available, or check out the selection guide from Adafruit.

You can purchase your Arduino board online or buy it through one of their main distributors depending on your country.

Arduino software (IDE)

Once you have your board, you’ll want to tell it to do something like blink the LED. The Arduino website has a step-by-step guide for you to follow based on your operating system. For example, it shows you how to download their Integrated Development Environment or IDE, connect the board to your computer via USB, and run your first program.

Arduino programming language

If you plan to write your Arduino programs from scratch, you’ll want to brush up on its syntax. Check out the language reference that’s filled with examples.

Arduino kits

If you’re new to Arduino, a good place to start is with a kit. Both the basic kit and starter kit contain all the components you need to build 15 step-by-step projects. You can find the tutorials online or purchase the starter kit that comes with the project book.

Fall 2015 Coding Events for Kids

September 16, 2015 by wendy

OpenTech Summit Berlin 2015
OpenTech Summit Berlin 2015 by OpenTech Summit

With school back in session, there are lots of weekend and after school activities for kids to explore science, engineering, coding, and robotics. Here are just a few places in the Lower Mainland for you to get started.

GearBots Makerspace

With GearBots Makerspace, kids work in teams to design and build robots. They experiment with various robotic platforms, learn about computer programming, put together electronic circuits, and fabricate components using 3D printing. Visit their courses page for more information.

  • Ages: 9-15+
  • Cost: $110-$167
  • When: Mondays 3:30-5:30pm, Thursdays 4-6pm, Saturdays 10am-12pm
  • Where: Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Port Moody

Geering Up UBC Engineering & Science for Kids

Led by enthusiastic university students, Geering Up runs after school clubs and outreach events for children and youth to participate in hands-on engineering projects, demos, design challenges, and lab tours. Visit their website to register.

  • Ages: Grades 1 to 12
  • Cost: $168
  • When: Wednesdays 5:30-7pm
  • Where: UBC Campus Vancouver

Kids Code Jeunesse

Kids Code Jeunesse has partnered with Microsoft to host 2 free coding workshops. Kids ages 7 to 9 will learn how to build interactive art projects using Scratch, and kids ages 9 to 15 will learn how to create their own webpages in HTML. To register, check out their website.

  • Ages: 7-15
  • Cost: FREE
  • When: Saturday, September 19, 10am-12pm, 1:30-3:30pm
  • Where: Microsoft Store Burnaby

Ladies Learning Code

Ladies Learning Code is presenting National Girls Learning Code Day on November 7th across Canada. So far in Vancouver, they’re hosting 2 workshops to teach girls how to build their own webpages using HTML and CSS. Registration is available through their website.

  • Ages: Girls 8-13
  • Cost: By donation
  • When: Saturday, November 7, 10am-4pm
  • Where: Yaletown, Mount Pleasant

Marshmallow Coding

Don’t forget our free Hour of Code workshops at the Richmond Public Library next week! Each day features a different activity that introduces computer science in a fun and interactive way. Register through the Richmond Public Library event calendar.

  • Ages: 9-12
  • Cost: FREE
  • When: Monday to Friday, September 21-25, 4-5pm
  • Where: Richmond Public Library Brighouse Branch


With Minecampkids, children learn by playing Minecraft. While being guided through basic and modified gameplay, they’ll learn how to install mods safely, download resource packs and skins, and make their own modifications using basic programming. Check out their website for details.

  • Ages: 8-13
  • Cost: $138-$314
  • When: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, 3:30-5:30pm
  • Where: Vancouver, West Vancouver

Science Al!ve

Science Al!ve is now running an after school program at the Coquitlam Public Library that’s specifically designed to engage girls in science as well as weekend clubs on campus that feature lab activities and Lego programming. Check out their website to learn more.

  • Ages: Grades 1-7
  • Cost: $0-$90
  • When: Thursdays 3:45-5:15pm; Saturdays 9:30am-12:30pm, 1-4pm
  • Where: Coquitlam Public Library Poirier Branch, SFU Campus Burnaby

A Teacher’s Guide to Scratch: Lesson 10

September 8, 2015 by wendy

Scratch Design Project
Story of Them by ShinyStar27 on Scratch

Congratulations! Today is Project Day! Your students have accomplished a lot over the last 9 sessions, and today is their chance to share what they’ve learned.

Lesson 10: Project Day

Project Day can take many forms. Students can share their projects by presenting them to the entire class, giving demos in small groups, or displaying them in a fair-like setting. Choose a method that works best for your class.

Student reflections

Before getting started, give all of your students a chance to reflect and celebrate their successes. Ask your students to think about their journey.

  • What was their proudest moment?
  • What was the biggest challenge that they overcame?
  • What did they enjoy the most?

Project presentations

If needed, give your students time to put the finishing touches on their projects and upload them to the class studio. Suggest to students who are finished to ask others to test their projects, help others to complete their projects, or plan their presentations. Once everyone is ready, start the presentations.


Create a celebratory mood by incorporating decorations, music, snacks, and/or guests. After the presentations, present students with certificates to acknowledge their hard work and encourage them to keep on coding!

Hour of Code Preview

September 2, 2015 by wendy

Hour of Code at Santa Teresa
Hour of Code at Santa Teresa by San José Library is licensed under CC by-sa 2.0

Our free Hour of Code series at the Richmond Public Library is less than 3 weeks away. Here’s a sneak peak of what’s happening each day.

Day 1: Draw with Anna and Elsa

Hour of Code with Anna and Elsa
Hour of Code with Anna and Elsa

Help Anna and Elsa from Frozen skate across the ice to draw beautiful snowflakes. By snapping together code blocks, you’ll draw colourful lines and shapes to create geometric designs. At the same time, you’ll learn important computer programming concepts like sequencing, loops, and functions.

Day 2: Code with Angry Birds

Hour of Code with Angry Birds
Hour of Code with Angry Birds

Snap together code blocks to catch the evil pig. You’ll need to carefully lead your bird through the maze and avoid the TNT. Learn about key computer science concepts like sequencing, loops, and conditionals. As you progress through this activity, you’ll also meet characters from Plants vs. Zombies and Ice Age.

Day 3: Game with Tynker

Hour of Code with Tynker
Hour of Code with Tynker

Build your own monster and then program your monster to collect mints, gum drops, and jelly beans. You’ll gain experience coding with loops and conditionals while solving puzzles in this Candy Quest.

Day 4: Animate with Scratch

Hour of Code with Scratch
Hour of Code with Scratch

Animate your name, make a dance party, or build a Pong Game. You’ll experiment with a variety of code blocks that add motion, create visuals effects, and play sounds while learning about computer programming.

Day 5: Light up with Lightbot

Hour of Code with Lightbot
Hour of Code with Lightbot

Help Lightbot light up all the blue tiles by putting together basic commands like walk and jump. You’ll use code blocks to guide Lightbot through different levels. As you progress, you’ll gain experience with procedures and loops.

This series begins September 21, and registration has already started! Check out the Richmond Public Library Event Calendar to register.