Fun Tech Learning Resources

Those who know me know that I’m not the World’s Biggest Fan of formal education. Too much pounding square pegs into round holes and whatnot. So, I’m always looking out for interesting ways to teach without the rote¬†learning and boredom. Here are a couple of resources that might be of interest.

Twine

Those of us born in the pre-cell-phone days will recall the Choose Your Own Adventure (a trademark of Bantam) books — AKA CYOA or Gamebooks or Branching Plot Novels. I’ll use CYOA because everyone does.

The neat thing about these books is that you get to choose a path. Reading and interaction. Don’t like the one path? Go back to the decision point and try another. An interesting way to teach consequences to actions without being pedantic.

There are a number of tools out there that allow you to create your own — for consumption in a web browser. The best mix of free-and-easy is Twine. (www.twinery.org) You get a GUI with boxes. Each box holds text. You add decision points/links which ties the story together. The focus is on creating content, not programming — but it does — surreptitiously — teach some programming.

It’s very easy to use — a parent and young child can get the hang of it pretty quickly. Once you’re done, the result is an HTML page that can be viewed on any browser. There are plenty of Twine How-Tos, so I won’t recreate that wheel, just do some Google searches.

Personally, I prefer their “older” desktop version (1.4.2) versus their re-worked Web-Only version (2.0.4). If you accidentally refresh on the Web version, or your browser refreshes (like Android browsers love to do) then you lose work. Desktop version just seems safer to me.

One thing I’ve been searching for is a way to get Twine into an Amazon Kindle. Twine produces Javascript-heavy HTML, which is fine for browsers, but won’t work in MOBI formats. Haven’t had any luck yet, though. (There are other CYOA tools out there that say they can convert to MOBI, but they charge you $10 per conversion.) I’m thinking of either writing a conversion program, or my own version of Twine that natively outputs to HTML or MOBI-friendly. We’ll see if I have the time.

Scratch

Scratch is a programming language which should probably be CS 101 in all schools. Colorful user interface. Lots of programming without writing code, etc. Good for all ages, really. Check it out here: https://scratch.mit.edu/

Scratch has evolved from a desktop based tool that interacts with a “Scratch Board” (for Input/Output) to a pure web-based environment. I regret the demise of the Scratch Board, as it allowed you to have physical pushbuttons and whatnot, but the web tool can run on any browser (and works great on Chromebooks), so there’s something to be said there.

Squishy Circuits

Looking for a playful way to learn about electronics? A good start is Squishy Circuits. You need a handful of inexpensive components and make the circuits out of a home-made clay-like substance. It’s perfectly safe (just flour, water, salt, etc) and really helps you to visualize what’s going on.

Read more about making your own conductive dough, view a teaching presentation, and more at Squishy Circuits.