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Bits and Bytes - Teaching Kids a Bit about Coding
by Startacus Admin
With businesses and employers looking for more and more, especially when it comes to their tech departments, we look at ‘Bits and Bytes’ an “exciting and fun card game that teaches children the fundamentals of computer coding”. We talk to founder and Startacus CollaboratorAndrew Mills to find out more!
Bits and Bytes is a card game for children, but tell us a little more about how it teaches them coding?
“Bits and Bytes teaches children computational thinking – a fundamental requirement for computer coding. People use computational thinking in computer programming/coding to solve problems (computers don’t think so they can’t use computational thinking). One part of computational thinking is algorithms – a sequence of instructions to achieve an end result. This is one of the key things children learn by playing Bits & Bytes. Children learn how to break down a problem into smaller components and then sequence steps/instructions together to achieve their goal. Children are thinking through the problem (problem solving/logical reasoning), sequencing instructions and then “debugging” them (modifying and evaluating if they don’t achieve their goal). As children become more advanced in playing Bits & Bytes they start to plan all these instructions/steps in advance and then run through each step just like a real-life computer programme. Bits and Bytes helps to teach them all of this and more.”
It seems like computational thinking is a great life skill for kids to have, what inspired you to come up with the game?
“I was inspired when I was testing Google’s Blockly language for my children to use to learn computer coding. I loved Blockly’s visual simplicity and suddenly had the idea that I could replicate this experience in a game. After considering the idea as an app and a board game, I finally settled on the card game format as I feel that format provides much more flexibility (and encourages creativity) far more than any of the alternative formats.” Is education a route you’ve ever considered? Actually my sister is a teacher and for just over a year now I’ve been volunteering at the local primary school to teach coding to the years 5 and 6. Despite this I don’t think I could be a teacher (the teachers I know and have come to know through developing Bits & Bytes have amazing patience). However I believe in technology and think we’re only scratching the surface on technology in education. We’re seeing technology can push boundaries in such fields as biohacking (quantified self) and I think it is only a matter of time (a few years) before the same approach is taken to education – let’s call it edu-hacking.”
Coding is becoming a more prevalent skillset in the modern workplace – do you think Bits and Bytes could help lead kids onto careers as coders?
“Absolutely. During the trialling of Bits and Bytes we did a test. We had one group of children spend hours playing with an electronic device and at the end of it we sat them down in front of Scratch – they couldn’t get their heads around Scratch. We did the same thing with other children but started them on Bits & Bytes and they immediately “got” Scratch and were using it in no time. Once children understand the process of computational thinking, everything else falls into place and once that happens they’re only a short hop away from learning an actual programming language.”
The game sounds great, are there any plans for expansion? How has the game been received so far?
“I have variations of the game planned that will suit older children (and still teach the fundamentals of computer coding). We also have interest in the game from America (specifically NY and LA) so I would love to bring it to America. I have also been talking with a German company who have similar ambitions for education as I do (teaching digital through analogue means) so I’m expecting Germany to be our first foreign language version. I have also received requests for an app version, so I expect there will be an app version though my preference is for Bits & Bytes the card game.”
Bits and Bytes is still very much in the startup stage; how are you planning on funding the venture?
“We’re funding the first production run through Indiegogo and with just over a week to go (at time of this interview) we are at 130% of target. Before launching on Indiegogo I was approached by angel investors but I opted for crowd funding as it wasn’t just the funding I wanted but raising awareness and I believe by crowd funding that objective has been achieved. Investment in the future? Being a startup it doesn’t make sense to think about such things, instead it’s probably best to focus on doing what you’re doing the best you can. If you do this then investment will either come to you or you will get to the point where you need investment to grow and that’s when you start to think about it.”
That’s definitely a good way to make sure the word gets out! Have you considered trying to get the game into schools?
“Absolutely. In fact as part of the crowdfunding we are encouraging people to not only buy the game for themselves but to also donate one to a primary school – and we have raised almost 150 games to be donated. As well there are orders for Bits & Bytes from schools in NY, LA, Sydney and throughout the UK. I believe schools will play a major part in the success of Bits and Bytes – after all, for the price of a cheap netbook a school could buy 10 copies of Bits & Bytes, which is enough for up to 40 children to play and learn the fundamentals of computer coding (compared to one child using a netbook).”