What comes to mind when you think of monsters? Probably a furry creature that hides under your bed and roars in the middle of the night. But what if you could control the monster? Would you make it flap its arms and dance? That’s what the kids attending the Google I/O Youth event programmed their monsters to do.
On May 17, Google held its third-annual youth event at the Google I/O developer’s conference in Mountain View, California. I/O stands for “Input/Output.” The event is for kids ages 8 to 13 who are interested in computer science. It inspires kids to embrace technology, to express their creativity, and innovate, or create something in a new way, with their own hands.
This year’s event attracted 120 kids from around the San Francisco Bay Area. It was the first time that a whole day was dedicated to the event. “Kids are the future,” explains Pavni Diwanji, Google’s vice president of engineering. “It would be great if we could inspire and empower kids to be the makers for tomorrow.”
“Make Your Monster” was the theme of the event this year. Four stations around the room featured a different hands-on activity including design, storytelling, coding, and robotics. Kids rotated among the four stations. Each activity was designed to showcase technology with creativity. At the storytelling station, kids used the Toontastic app to create an animation starring monsters. In the coding station, kids used Scratch Blocks, a new block based programming system developed in collaboration with the MIT Lab, to choreograph and program a custom dance for their monster.
Mitchel Resnick, who works at the MIT Media Lab that developed Scratch, recommends Scratch for beginners in coding. “Scratch is more accessible and motivational. You don’t use text like in Java, where your punctuation has to be perfect,” he explains. “Instead, you snap blocks together like LEGO blocks to animate. In Scratch, it’s easier to get started on a project because you can just tinker with the blocks and play around with the actions the robot is going to perform.” Resnick says that at top universities such as Harvard, some professors teaching the Introduction to Computer Science course start by using Scratch before moving on to other, more advanced programs. Research shows that fewer students dropped out of the class when that method was used.
Technology for Tomorrow
This year’s keynote speaker was Brent Bushnell, the CEO of Two Bit Circus, an entertainment company headquartered in Los Angeles. “Google and Two Bit Circus both use the cutting edge aspects of the world to get everybody excited about science, technology, and math,” Bushnell told TFK. “Wake up your inner nerd!” According to Bushnell, Google I/O Youth is very similar to his company’s STEAM Carnival, a traveling carnival that uses games to get kids excited about technology. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.
Sixth grader Elsa Marroquin says that the Google I/O Youth event really sparked her creativity. “When I grow up,” she says, “I want to create robots that will help the elderly with their daily tasks.”