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Friday, 29 March 2013

Lots of fun at GeeCON 4 Kids!

You might have noticed... This year we have opened the conference earlier! On March 23, one of the first days of spring, sunny (though frosty), we met in the very heart of Kraków – at Google for Entrepreneurs in the Main Square – for a special GeeCON 4 Kids workshop.

The idea came from last year’s Devoxx, where Konrad and Marcin attended the JUG leaders BOF and Stephan pitched the idea, asking who’d pick it up and do an event in their country. It didn’t take long for our team to get excited and shout “We will!”, and so GeeCON 4 Kids came to be. In fact many of our friends from Hackerspace have previously organised Arduino workshops, so we had the know-how, team and passion to support the idea.

The GeeCON Kids and Team

This flavor of GeeCON is aimed to show kids that coding is fun! Programming is becoming more open and easier. Robots are cheaper than ever before, and pretty advanced sub-assemblies too. Piece of cake, even a child could do it... So why not let them?

We gathered 28 kids, age 10-14 (with more than half of them being girls!) - and almost as many mentors! – to take them on a guided but hand-on tour of two faces of the same story: software and hardware. Some of the kids arrived from as far as Rabka Zdrój, and some mentors from as far as Poznań! :-)

During the day each child has a chance to experience three themes we prepared: Mindstorms, Arduino and 3D Printing (... and the awesome lunch Google had prepared for us).

One of the least aggressive battle-robots

The Lego Mindstorms series are kits that, apart from normal Lego and Lego Technic elements, contain a programmable brick with 4 simple sensors (sound, colors, ultrasound and touch) and three stepper motors. You can also buy additional, more advanced sensors. You can build any machine you like, and program it using either a well-organized graphical interface, or a full-fledged programming language (e.g. C-like NXC or Java-like LeJOS). This time we decided to stick to graphical, command box programming whose effects greatly exceed what you would normally expect from it. We had all sorts line followers, catapults, and battle-robots, built by quickly emerging specialized teams of programmers and constructors. The only drawback was that it was difficult to find all the pieces thrown around the room after we stopped paying attention for mere 15 seconds.

A full pedestrian lighting system incl. lights and sounds for the blind - powered by Arduino.

Arduino is a very affordable single-board Atmel 8-bit AVR microcontroller with some additional, standardized components. And it's even more affordable if you decide to build it yourself, it is open hardware! There is the Arduino integrated development environment (IDE), designed with also non-programmers in mind. Arduino apps are usualy written written in C++, which is also the language the Kids used during that day.

A typical “Hello World” task on an Arduino is to blinks an LED, but the kids didn’t stop there! With the help of our experienced mentors from Hacker Space Kraków, as well as volunteer electronic fans, helped the kids to design and realise their ideas - all using potentiometers, temperature, light and even distance sensors!

Self-made, self-replicating 3D printer. Spot the GeeCON logo!

Krzysiek with his friends from Olkusz and HackerSpace Kraków presented a 3D Printer he built based on open hardware/open software ideas from RepRap / University of Bath. The 3D printer is a self-replicating machine: you can see in the photo that some parts (ratchets even!) are clearly printed in 3D at the some/similar machine. We all had to agree that the printed is a rather hypnotizing machine – you can spend all day watching it successively lay coats of “paint”.  

The material, by the way, might be plastic as well as chocolate!  And you can print anything from the GeeCON logo, to a device prototype, to a house. By the way - the printer uses the Arduino board. If you want to check out more pictures from the event, check out our GeeCON 4 Kids gallery on G+.

The event was incredibly fun, and it was long ago when we had last seen such enthusiasm. We hope we can accommodate even more future-programmers next year, and that the word spreads among the kids and not mostly from kids to parents.

Special thanks to Hacker Space Kraków, GDG Kraków and Google for Entrepreneurs for helping with the event, and of course to all the children and their parents.

Last but not least, we would like to thank our mentors and everyone who volunteered to spend the weekend with us teaching the joy of programming (in alphabetical order):

Adam, Artur, Asia, Dawid, Grzesiek, Jakub, Justyna, Justyna, Konrad, Krzysztof, Magda, Marcin, Marcin, Maria, Michał, Mirek, Oleksandr, Paulina, Piotr, Piotr, Szymon, Terry, Wiktor, Wojciech, Wojtek, Łukasz and another Łukasz! Thank you!


  1. Awesome additional gallery of kids getting hands-on with the tech: https://plus.google.com/107475711656162640562/posts/6nW9gYk4pCm

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