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Monday, 2 June 2014

Fabulous fun at Kids Adore Ditch

I spent last Thursday at Kids Adore Ditch, and I can't remember when I last had so much fun.

The event was organised (in less than two weeks!) by James @Monkchips Governor.

It took place in the Shoreditch Village Hall - a great venue, with plenty of space, power and wifi bandwidth.

Just as well! Over thirty kids turned up, and I counted at least nine different activities to keep them occupied.

High spots included a banana-controlled quadcopter, a robotic arm, digital drawing, Minecraft on the Pi, Scratch, and a couple of coding-based games.

Many of the activities were run by IBMers, and local company Kuato Studios also contributed.

Special kudos to Neil Ford, who ran the minecraft station, and Linda Sandvik who introduced Scratch coding.

More details, and some pictures, on Dan Light's blog.

I took along some robots - two Pololu 3Pi models (seen below) and my very own C3pi (in the foreground).

Courtesy Marco Abis @capotribu 
The 3Pi robots tirelessly walked around their tracks and mazes, and everyone managed to control them successfully.

It was fascinating to see how the different age groups reacted.

Four-year-olds could press the buttons, and understood the difference between the line-follower and the maze solver.

Six-year olds were impressed at the way that the maze-follower's second run on a learned maze went straight from start to goal. They quickly grasped the issues raised by the third looping path, and several of them were confident enough to demonstrate and explain the robots to other kids and/or their parents.

By eight, they wanted to experiment and try out the robots in different starting positions. One came up with the idea of dynamically changing the maze with slips of white card covering the black line, and another wants to build his own robots.

Everyone did well and had fun. There were slightly more girls than boys, and they were every bit as confident and competent - great to see.

Several people wanted to know if they could buy the robots. You can get the Pololu 3Pi from several UK-based suppliers. I recommend SK Pang, not least because the owner is a good friend and an active member of the Open Source Hardware community.

The robots come with a simple demo program loaded, but to get them to do anything interesting (like line following or maze solving) you will need also need a programmer. You can write your own programs, and you can even use the Arduino IDE. There are detailed instructions on the Pololu website.

I really enjoyed Kids Adore Ditch, and so did the kids. The place was alive with excitement, energy and fun. Let's hope there will be a repeat event in October.