We all recognize  the name “Google.”  The technology mogul is everywhere– in our computers, cars, phones, and even our maps.  Google is not only known for the technology we use daily but also, for its research.  Everyone knows that Google is researching ways to create a “self-driving” car.  The 2016 ISTE Convention was the esteemed location at which Google unveiled its newest research project–Project Bloks. Development has quietly taken place over the past two years along with tons of preliminary research.

The goal of Project Bloks is to “create a developmental platform for tangible programming.”  In other words, Google wants young learners to learn how to code through the physical manipulation of objects. Google knows what educational research has been telling us all along–the more muscles students involve in learning, the more areas of the brain are activated. There is a positive correlation between the retention of knowledge and the number of brain cells involved in the learning process, making hands-on the best way to learn.  As a result, Google wanted to create something that got students physically involved in the coding process.

What researchers discovered is that software development is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when programming.  As a result, Google chose to create a software platform that others can customize to meet their creative needs.  The plan: Google will create the software and makers all over the world will use the software to create an infinite number of projects.   Prototypes were created and the results were analyzed.

linear codingblocks  tangible programming

Google, created a Blok system consisting of three parts: a Brain Board, a Base Board and Pucks.

three pieces

Each Base Board holds a puck held in place magnetically on top of each block.

pucks on top

A puck placed on top of a Base Board.

The pucks each contain a specific behavior such as move forward, move back, turn right, jump, etc. Pucks can be customized to include dials, switches, buttons and numerous other input sources.  Most importantly, they can be created very inexpensively by makers around the world allowing users of Google’s new platform to be infinitely creative.

 

project-bloks-3

A variety of sample pucks made by Google.

Base Boards, are then linked together forming a string of code. Finally, a Brain Board connects to the series of Base Boards.  Google’s software lies inside the Brain Board powered by a Raspberry Pi Zero.  The Brain Board synthesizes the information from the Base Boards and Pucks, powers the pieces, and connects to devices, via Bluetooth or Wifi.

While still in the research phase, Google plans to offer this software for no charge–the only goal being to help make “tangible programming” more accessible to the general public.

Project Bloks at ISTE

sample programming blocks

sample programming blocks

To demonstrate Project Bloks’ future uses to ISTE-goers, Google researchers created sample blocks.  Each string of behaviors was connected to a power source and then synced with programmable robots (Dash, Lego WeDo, etc.) or computer software such as code.org.  The pucks override the block programming features embedded in the games or robots and replace them with the behaviors coded using the blocks. When students press the green button, the animated characters on the computer screen or robots move according to the code the students assembled.  “Building” code takes on a whole new meaning.

Forward thinking is a hallmark of Google and it is not lacking here.  Project Bloks demonstrates the future of programming.

 

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