BlockyTalky: New programmable tools to enable students’ learning networks


Networked systems like social media and games are ubiquitous in the lives of young people. Yet no currently available programming tools exist that have been specifically created to enable youth to create such systems. Similarly, industrial and academic programming practices often involve the simultaneous production and subsequent integration of code by multiple collaborators. But few youth-focused programming tools have been designed to support this form of authentic participation in computing. We describe the design of a new programming environment that addresses both of these needs. It empowers adolescents to design, make, and program interactive, tangible networked technologies, indicating the feasibility of networked technology as a design and programming genre for youth. We show how distributed programming tools can offer young people agency to work within a variety of collaboration structures. We present results from two U.S. middle school classroom implementations. Students created a wide variety of projects that included interaction design, physical artifact design and making, and network programming. Students enacted a variety of collaboration approaches that were responsive to their creative goals and inter-personal relationships. They programmed a system of small single-board computers that process input and output information from connected sensors, actuators, or synthesizers, and communicate over a network. Students constructed different collaborative structures, from pair to jigsaw programming. Our contribution is to show what the technical content and social structure of future computing education environments for youth could be.