I’ve written before about Scratch, a teaching platform developed by MIT to introduce kids to the art of programming. My son has been playing around with Scratch for over a year and although he still enjoys it, he’s showing signs of needing to move to the next level, a ‘real’ programming language. I decided that Python, being one of my own favourite languages, would be an ideal next step, particularly when I discovered PyGame, a Python library based on SDL.
Using Pygame with its similar problem domain to that of Scratch would, I figured, make the transition to a grown-up platform easier, and so it has; concepts such as sprite, coordinates, animation etc. are common to both. I took him through the “Pummel the Chimp” tutorial, expecting his young eyes to glaze over within 10 minutes, but no, a hour later he was still engaged and learning. Why? He already has a deep understanding of programming, particularly object oriented programming, all thanks to Scratch.
Most of this knowledge he acquired without any help for me, I simply introduced him to Scratch and explained one or two concepts (variables and messages/method calls) which he initially had trouble with, the rest he picked up from looking at other Scratch projects and from writing his own.
So if your kids (or even you) have an itch to learn the essence of programming in a fun and effective way, then Scratch it.
I’ve been a long time fan of mind maps (the pencil and paper type) and have also occasionally used the excellent and free computer based FreeMind to good effect. Over the last year or so a number of online mind mapping tools have appeared and I see that one of the better ones, www.mindmeister.com, can now be used both online and offline thanks to the magic of Google Gears; I think this is the first non-Google implementation of Gears I’ve seen in the wild.
I’m using the free (up to six mind maps) version of MeidMeister but like other such services that require a monthly subscription for access to the unlimited premium edition I’m unlikely to bite. I’m afraid I’m spoiled by the free offerings of the likes of Google Apps and the pay-as-you-go offerings of Amazon Ec2/S3 so the idea of paying a fixed monthly charge for a ‘point-solution’ doesn’t appeal.
Perhaps their long term strategy is to be purchased by the likes of Google and indeed the product would fit in beautifully with existing Google Apps offerings right down to the wiki-like sharing facilities. Nevertheless, well worth checking out the free version and if sharing and collaborating of multiple mind maps is your thing (schools come to mind) then the €3.21 monthly charge is very reasonable. Or perhaps you could use their sponsoring facility to pay for a premium licence for your local school.
I’ve mentioned before my delight at the new search facility within Google Reader, while regretting that del.icio.us didn’t offer the same facility. Now I find, through Google Reader Search, I already have something more useful, a personalised search engine that searches not just my blog subscriptions’ contents but my also my del.icio.us bookmarks’ meta data.
While reading Nick Carr’s post on the CapGemini’s partnership with Google to push Google Apps I recalled that another sign of Web2.0 adoption within the enterprise was Siemens use of Facebook as an intranet. To obtain a reference link I opened Google Reader and searched on “Facebook Siemens” as I figured I must have read it on a blog post. Up comes an entry in my del.icio.us account with a link to a Robert Scoble comment on a Techcrunch post. Google Reader Search included my del.icio.us account in the search because I’ve subscribed to its feed. (Before you ask, I subscribe to my own feed as a “second chance” reminder to re-read the stuff I’ve tagged as sometimes I only glance at articles to see if they are of interest, tag them if they appear to be and return when I have more time to fully digest them).
I now can search both my “knowledge stores” using the same interface. Admittedly my del.icio.us searches are restricted to meta data i.e. the tags/descriptions I’ve assigned to the link (and the link’s own heading text), but as I tend to over-egg the pudding when it comes to tags I can live with that restriction.
This opens up all sorts of easy to implement knowledge management (KM) scenarios for both individuals and organisations (previous attempts at corporate KM have been, to say the least, a disaster), possible examples:
- Students and teachers recording notes and lectures using Google Docs , which can then be subscribed to via RSS and subsequently searched using Google Reader Search.
- Same as above but using blog posts as the recording mechanism.
- Short notes and records (time sheets?) could be recorded using Twitter, again subscribed to via feeds and thus enabled for inclusion in a searchable knowledge store.
This type of knowledge sharing is not suitable for highly sensitive data but is ideal for community data and for non-sensitive/semi-private data (such as my del.icio.us bookmarks). Search enabled Google Reader may prove to be the killer app that RSS and KM have been waiting for.
Most of the discussions about Google D&S tend to frame the conversation in relation to MS Office assuming prior knowledge of the likes of Excel and Word. But my wife, an IT Coach, is finding that more and more people who are drawn to first-time use of computers because of a wish to access the internet, are bypassing traditional desktop tools especially when she introduces them to Gmail and Google Docs & Spreadsheets. For these people teaching the use of Google D&S using Word & Excel as the template makes no sense so it’s good to see that Google has announced a Google Docs & Spreadsheets Help Group to provide help and guidance to users of the product.