Computational Thinking (from the perspective of pizza)

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Did you know that engineers are essentially taught to THINK differently from the rest of us?

And as parents to a generation of children that will benefit greatly from tools that advance digital literacy and technical competence, it is valuable to understand the fundamentals of exactly how and why.

The idea that computational thinking is a skill that we should be teaching children on par with reading, writing and math is becoming more and more common. Research suggests there is much value in introducing this approach to problem solving early, in an effort to advance digital and data literacy amongst future generations.

Computational thinking is an approach to problem solving that is inspired by how developers go about building programs and software. While these ideas have existed and been debated since the 1950s, the term was first published in Seymour Papert’s treatise on “An Exploration in the Space of Mathematics Education” in 1996.

There are four basic components of computational thinking:

  • Decomposition

  • Pattern Recognition

  • Pattern Generalization and Abstraction

  • Algorithmic Design

Decomposition refers to the act of breaking down a bigger problem into smaller parts. From here it is far easier to build a program that allows a computer to solve the smaller problems one by one, and as a result solve the overarching problem/puzzle.

For instance, if you are trying to order a pizza and you want to make sure that everyone can get the topping they prefer, you might first want to solve the problem of finding out which topping everyone likes. From there you can determine the overall composition of the pizza.

Once you have broken down your problem into smaller, more manageable components, you might start to look for common threads or patterns in your components. Pattern recognition refers to the task of identifying similarities or repetitions in your data, and using this information to inform your solution.

For instance, once you’ve asked all your guests to share their preferred topping, you might note that in addition to pepperoni or other delicious treats like gummy worms, all of your guests have requested cheese. Now you know that you can order a pizza with a cheese foundation (apologies to any vegans in tha houzzzzz).

This next step is called Pattern Generalization and Abstraction and involves framing these patterns in the simplest terms possible so that they can be implemented and reused. In other words, you are taking a seemingly complex problem, and breaking it down into smaller, simpler problems that are easier to solve for. Actions you can repeat in a sequence to complete a task.

Barnaby wants pepperoni pizza. Pizza has sauce. This is a tomato-based sauce (!= ketchup for god’s sake). Pizza has cheese. Pizza has toppings. If pizza is for Barnaby, then topping is pepperoni.

Finally we get to Algorithmic Design.

Algorithms are not necessarily a computer program, but rather a set of instructions or recipe for how to proceed to solve any problem. It can quite easily be turned into a computer program if need be. Today, algorithms are used to describe everything from the steps involved in opening a bank account, to the path to success as a recording artist, to how to make a particular pizza.

func makePizza() {

rollDough();

addIngredient(sauce);

addIngredient(cheese);

if (guest == Barnaby) {

addIngredient(Pepperoni);

}

bake();

}

Ok, so now that we know how to compute a pizza, you might be thinking - “how on earth is this relevant to me as a parent?”

Keep in mind, you don’t need a device to help develop your child’s curiosity for this approach to problem solving. Bake a pizza with them, ask them to break down the steps and consider the sequence, and write the recipe together on a chalkboard or a piece of paper before you start cooking.

We can teach kids how to code, but if we don’t also teach them to think as coders, a fundamental component is lost.


Penelope Pie's Pizza Party On Shelves Now!

It’s Penelope’s birthday and she is having a party. Her favorite food is pizza, but she wants to make sure all her guests can have their favorite topping. Luckily Penelope loves a good puzzle.

Join Penelope and friends as they strive to solve a pie chart challenge!

Join Penelope and friends as they strive to solve a pie chart challenge!

After many months of hard work with our publisher Storybook Genius Publishing, we’re excited to announce that the re-release of Penelope Pie’s Pizza Party is available on Amazon and in book stores. An awesome way to introduce STEM concepts and computational thinking to your kids, read all about how a pie chart makes up one whole - no more, no less.

Heck - get your kids even more excited and make your own pizza together!

As for what’s next: the second Vizkidz book is coming together nicely. Barnaby Barchart’s Beach Adventure is tentatively scheduled for release in early summer 2019. We’re planning to run another Kickstarter campaign this coming February to support marketing and promotional efforts for the series. We hope we can count on your support.

Until then - happy reading!

5 (Screenless) STEM Toys We Love

Kids exploring the Cubetto. Photo courtesy of Primo Toys. 

Kids exploring the Cubetto. Photo courtesy of Primo Toys. 

Have you been to Target lately?

It's hard to miss entire aisles dedicated to toys that are specifically designed to encourage computational and critical thinking in kids and get them interested in science, technology, engineering, and maths. Research indicates that computational thinking is a formative skill on par with reading and writing. In other words, we are in no way the only team out there wise to the idea that kids could (and should) be introduced to these concepts early on. And because kids have plenty of time to become addicted to their devices phones as adults, we particularly love projects that keep it analog. 

In researching STEM for kids we've come across a couple of awesome toys that don't require a screen, and these are a few of our absolute favorites:

Robot Turtles!   Build a program to make it to the middle before your opponents.

Robot Turtles! Build a program to make it to the middle before your opponents.

A fellow Kickstarter project, Robot Turtles is a simple board game that teaches the fundamentals of programming. The aim of the game is to reach the center of the board, and in order to do so, kids play the cards in their hand, essentially building a simple program to circumvent obstacles and get to the finish line before your opponents. I've played this game extensively with my niece and nephew and quickly learned that they far are better coders than me. For ages 3-8. 

The Cubetto is a small wooden robot that kids navigate with coding blocks. Photo courtesy of Primo Toys.

The Cubetto is a small wooden robot that kids navigate with coding blocks. Photo courtesy of Primo Toys.

Kickstarter seems to be the launchpad for all things kids + coding. A few years back, Primo Toys crowdfunded a bunch of money to build Cubetto, an amazing toy that takes programming for kids to the next level but is still entirely screenless. Cubetto is basically a small wooden robot that moves according to your instructions. Kids place coding blocks on a control board that direct the actions of the robot - right, left, forward, back etc. and can even build a 4-step function sequence that runs each time the function block is played. The robot is accompanied by adventure packs, books, and mats, such as the Deep Space Adventure pack, to encourage further exploration. For ages 3-6. 

The Circuit Cubes Kits contain electronic building blocks that kids can use to build their own toys and understand the mechanics behind it. Photo courtesy of Tenka Labs.

The Circuit Cubes Kits contain electronic building blocks that kids can use to build their own toys and understand the mechanics behind it. Photo courtesy of Tenka Labs.

Everybody loves a good Lego, but Circuit Cubes from Tenka Labs are a series of kits that allow you to take your legos to the next level. From Smart Art to Wacky Wheels, these electronic building blocks have kids exploring light, sound, motion, and sensors through building their own toys – from cars to flashlights – and interactive play. And if your imagination stretches beyond the provided materials, add these modular components to pretty much anything in your toy box! For ages 8-12. 

The Electric Motors Catalyst kit lets your kid rise to the challenge by building their own designs. Photo courtesy of Tinkering Labs.

The Electric Motors Catalyst kit lets your kid rise to the challenge by building their own designs. Photo courtesy of Tinkering Labs.

Have a little budding inventor on your hands? Tinkering Labs has created the Electric Motors Catalyst kit, which introduces your child to science and engineering as they design and build their own robotic creations. The kit comes complete with electric and wooden components and hardware, like a motor, battery pack, metal springs, a wooden chassis, and wheels. Kids are then inspired to come up with their own solutions to the included challenges like "build a machine that can scramble an egg" or "make a ride for one of your toys," using both the included materials and any nuts and bolts they can find around the house. For ages 8-13. 

The Koala Crate from KiwiCo is aimed at kids 3–4 years old. Each month your kid receives an engaging art or science project to work on. Photo courtesy of KiwiCo.

The Koala Crate from KiwiCo is aimed at kids 3–4 years old. Each month your kid receives an engaging art or science project to work on. Photo courtesy of KiwiCo.

While KiwiCo crates are not an individual toy, we wanted to include them on this list because we think what they are doing is so cool! Like Birchbox for STEM toys, new creative art and science projects are delivered to your kid each month. Crates are tailored to age groups, and while it varies from infants to teenagers, the kits generally include the materials you need to build your project, step-by-step instructions, a magazine with age-appropriate and relevant content, and if you need more help - an online video tutorial to help you along the way! With new crates arriving each month, it's easy to keep your little innovator engaged. For ages 0-16. 

Do your kids have any favorite STEM toys that encourage and inspire computational thinking? Feel free to share in comments! 

Everything You Need To Know About Where We're At!

Meet Barnaby Barchart, Penelope Pie, Laney Line, and Bertie Boxplot! 

Meet Barnaby Barchart, Penelope Pie, Laney Line, and Bertie Boxplot! 

Hi Friends! 

It has been a long and windy road to get to this point. We've got a test print in the works, a tentative release date for Penelope Pie's Pizza Party on the books in September, and Mark and I are already hard at work creating book two, tentatively titled Barnaby Barchart's Treasure Hunt.

Here's a little more about how we got here. 

To get you up to speed, since completing the Kickstarter project in 2016 a lot of change has happened in my life. My daughter Sofie was born and quickly became the boss of our household. David and I went to Italy to get married surrounded by all our dearest friends and family. We bought a house in Upstate New York, tore it apart and completely remodeled it (without too much bickering over design decisions of course). We also both left our jobs, packed up all our belongings and set out to explore the world with a baby in tow, in order to figure out what's next for us: both where we were going to live, and what we were going to spend our days working on. 

One project I knew I had to keep working on was Vizkidz. Data literacy and giving kids a head start by teaching them how to interpret and analyze data is something that is near and dear to my heart. I knew next to nothing when I started working as a data journalist in 2012. I learned on the job and experienced first-hand how difficult it can be to communicate with data, but also how effective a tool it can be when used well. In an age where "fake news" seems to abound, numbers don't lie. 

In what I would describe as fortuitous circumstances, I was introduced to Mark through mutual friends around the same time that I was looking for someone to work on illustrations with me. Having learned his background, I totally stalked his portfolio online and came across a project he had done while still studying at SCAD. I was blown away. It was that perfect edgy mix of hand-drawn and graphic that I had envisioned in my mind for Vizkidz and had failed miserably at explaining eloquently to anyone who would listen.

I introduced Mark to the project, told him why I was so passionate about it, and that I would be creating four books with the Storybook Genius Publishing team. He met my characters Penelope Pie, Barnaby Barchart, Laney Line, and Bertie Boxplot. I described their personalities and explained how they reflect their traits as a visualization, the adventures we would go on and how that would teach kids to analyze data, and all the while he didn't even laugh out loud or tease me for being the ultimate nerd. In fact, he agreed to join the team and has worked tirelessly to design the Vizkidz world you see today. 

Once again it seems I am learning on the job. First of all, as an above-average loquacious person (that's a nice way to put it right?) I never knew how hard it would be to tell a great story in so few words. And after a few extremely awkward book readings with terrifying dead-pan stares from rooms full of children that are way smarter than me, I created an interactive experience that allows kids to actually build and analyze data visualizations as we go. Far more engaging! We're on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook building a community to bring our book to when we launch in September, and I am upping my hashtag game, to say the least. 

With all that said, we are so excited to bring a physical copy of Penelope Pie's Pizza Party to you very soon. I promise to share a pre-order link over the summer, and cannot wait to throw our own little party to celebrate when everyone is back to school. We'll order pizza and dork out on data viz.

Stay tuned.  

 

Coming in September 2018

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We're so excited to announce that Penelope Pie's Pizza Party will be hitting the shelves this coming September! Since you last heard from us, we've joined the Storybook Genius Publishing family. With their support and sage advice, we've been through countless rewrites, storyboards, and revisions, and they are currently shepherding our draft from test print to release this fall.

More updates on what's been happening in our world soon!

xoxo Liv