We’re taking our second foray into the world of crowdfunding. Our first foray two years ago created the Linux Voice magazine, now the most read Linux magazine in the world. Our new project is to create a children’s book to bring even more young people into the fascinating world of computing.
For too long, computer programming has seemed like a secret world, sealed off from all but the geekiest of maths geniuses. Normal people never needed to know what went on inside their mysterious black boxes: it might have well as been voodoo. That’s changing now though. Because computers are essential to the way we live now, computer programmers are essential too. Kids growing up today need to have at least an idea of how computers work to make them useful (and well paid) members of the workforce of tomorrow.
If only there were some way to help them get into computer programming, without putting them off with all that dull maths. If only there were a fun way of introducing programming concepts without them realising they were learning at all, because they’re too busy having fun…
Well, there is. We want to write a children’s book to help kids discover the world of computers. It’s a mixture of learning and adventure, programming and storytelling, and with your help we’ll make it a reality.
This is Grace. She’s named after Grace Hopper, one of the pioneers of computing (and also the woman who coined the term ‘bug’ for an error in computer code).
And this is Alan. He’s named after Alan Turing, who was one of Britain’s early computer geniuses. He was also an excellent long-distance runner!
Grace and Alan are just like any kids: they like to learn. They like to push the limits of what they can do. And they aren’t afraid to try new things when everyone says they can’t. We want to create a book about Grace and Alan – and their robot, Tinker.
Tinker is a robot, so he can’t think for himself – that’s where you come in!
Like any good robot, Tinker is controlled by a computer. He can’t think for himself, but Grace and Alan – with our help – can tell him exactly what to do and how to do it. He’s limited only by their imagination – which pretty much means he can do anything.
In Beep Beep Yarr!, Grace and Alan are on a quest to find Blackbeard’s treasure. To get it they have to find their way out of swamps, escape from crocodiles, crack passwords, find keys, and always stay one step ahead of the pirates who are trying to stop them.
Programming with a story
We’ve spoken to many parents who want computers to mean more to their children than touchscreens and video games. We want them to see behind the curtain and equip themselves for a technology-driven world.
Grace and Alan use computers in the way that we want everyone to use computers. Technology can open up a whole new world, a whole new culture and a new way of thinking. Kids should look at a computer and know that it isn’t a mysterious black box that they’re not allowed to tinker with. They should be encouraged to play with code, to break things and put them back together, just as they would with Lego, or a Scalextric, or a train set. There should be no rules – this is what makes Minecraft so great, for example.
But there won’t be any programming code in the book. We want 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds to read alone, or with parents at bedtime. We want them to feel fully immersed in the adventure. As far as the kids know, they’re escaping from a crocodile. But in reality they might be learning about loops, or conditional statements, or Boolean values.
We’ve also come up with something unique. At the end of each chapter, you and your children can access an interactive challenge online – playable via a smartphone, tablet or computer. These challenges will put the ideas from the book into practice, playing with programming and the main characters from the book to accomplish a specific task.
Not just for kids
For the grown-ups, we’re also offering a parents’ guide, so you can make sense of the principles we’re teaching in Beep Beep Yarr! and how they relate to what your child is learning at school. A lot of parents have no problems helping their children with English, maths or science homework, but as computing is so new to schools it’s something that a lot of people have no experience with. We want to open up the lessons in Beep Beep Yarr! to the parents too, so you can read with your child and help them out when they get stuck – and hopefully this will be true when they bring work home from school.