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Learning from Scratch: Kids Day at Open Source Summit

The Kids Day Workshop at Open Source Summit in Los Angeles was organized by LA MakerSpace in conjunction with The Linux Foundation.

At this year’s Kids Day workshop at Open Source Summit in Los Angeles, The Linux Foundation collaborated with LA to provide kids with an introduction to coding ideas and approaches. The LA MakerSpace is heavily influenced by the maker culture, so they have a very hands-on approach when it comes to teaching coding.

Hands On

That hands-on approach was visible at the workshop through the use of a lot of real-life accessories. For example, the space featured a huge ball pit with sensors installed so kids could program the sensors and collect data. A cup of water was used as a switch; when you dipped your finger in the water, it sent a signal to turn a device on or off.  And, the kids used an open source Scratch program to learn coding.

Excitement at the Kids Day Workshop at Open Source Summit in Los Angeles.

I talked to some parents who accompanied their children and they were excited about the workshop. Most of the kids had some previous exposure to coding, but they said this experience was unique and fun.

One of the mothers I met at the event had a very strict policy about screen time and access to devices like the iPad. But she brought her daughter, Penelope, to the workshop so that she could be exposed to the “creative” side of such platforms. Penelope had tried coding in second grade and was very excited to be at the event.

Shelton and his mom at Kids Day. (Photo by Swapnil Bhartiya)

Shelton’s mom learned about the workshop from a Swiss friend that she hosted as an exchange student years ago. This friend knew of Shelton’s interest in coding and recommended the workshop. Shelton’s mom also suggested there could also be coding classes for parents so adults could also venture into new areas.

Alex’s dad is a system engineer at Walt Disney, and he brought Alex to the workshop to expose him to coding and software development. Alex plays a lot of games and his dad hoped that this workshop might help Alex develop an interest in that side of technology.

Mya Stark, Executive Director of LA Makerspace, who organized the event with her team members, said, “What LA MakerSpace does is that we are dedicated to everybody having equal access to learn technology skills.”

“The way that we are doing that primarily right now is that we work with the LA city and county public library systems, and we take our instructors, like you see there, out to the branches and we help kids learn things like coding, robotics, e-textile, stop-motion animation.”

Open Source Approach

However, Stark said, they came to the Kids Day workshop with a different approach, since it’s about Linux and open source. They looked at different possibilities to find something that was meant for kids. They picked Scratch because it’s a platform on which kids are collaborating all over the world. And it’s open source.

“Scratch is basically like GitHub in that you make a project, somebody else makes a project, and then you remix it, which is essentially like forking. And then kids are kind of interacting through that whole sphere with each other,” said Stark.

Stark’s team also invested a lot of time finding ways to create a group coding project at the Open Source Summit. Their focus was on something that was also going to be able to be played with kids around the world and contributed upon as well.

“What we’re hoping they take away is that they really learn how fun Scratch is, and that they want to continue it when they get home. If they didn’t have a Scratch account, now they’ll have one. They’ll be familiar with the platform. They’ll understand the collaborative nature of it and all the different things that they can find already on there that they can play with and tweak and make their own. So that would be the goal,” Stark said.

Swapnil Bhartiya