Building and Learning With Programmable Bricks
Randy Sargent Mitchel Resnick Fred Martin Brian Silverman
In many educational computer projects, children control and manipulate worlds in the computer. Using one program, children can control the movements of Newtonian "dynaturtles" in physics microworlds ( Abelson & diSessa, 1980). Using a different program, children can create and manipulate simulated urban worlds, constructing houses, roads, and factories, and setting tax rates for the city ( Wright, 1990).
But instead of controlling and manipulating worlds in the computer, what if children could control and manipulate computers in the world? That is, what if children could spread computation throughout their own personal worlds? For example, a child might attach a tiny computer to a door, then program the computer to make lights turn on automatically whenever anyone enters the room. The child might program the computer to greet people as they enter the room-- or to sound an alarm if anyone enters the room at night.
In this chapter we describe a new technology, called the Programmable Brick, that makes such activities possible, and we explore how this new technology might open new learning opportunities for children. The Programmable Brick is a tiny, portable computer embedded inside a LEGO brick about the size of a deck of cards. The brick is capable of interacting with the physical world in a large variety of ways (including sensors and infrared communication). Our hope is that the Programmable Brick will make possible a wide range of new design activities for children, encouraging children to see themselves as designers and inventors. At the same time, we believe that these activities could fundamentally change how children think about computers and computational ideas.