Interactive cubes teach kids to code and communicate
With a new digital toy developed by two Berlin based designers children can learn German and simultaneously understand the basics of programming.
Learning how to code is very similar to learning a new language. Whether you are communicating with a machine or a person, in order to be understood you have to choose the right words and put them in the right order. Playing with the digital educational toy Quazoo combines the skills necessary for both coding and communicating. The toy consists of up to ten intercative cubes and an app for tablet computers. It was designed specifically for children aged five to eight years who learn German as a second language.
Each cube features a screen that can portray different animals. As the children get to know the various sounds of the German language, they collect an animal for every letter they learn. Once they have mastered all the sounds and thus collected all the animals, the kids can start with simple commands of linear programming, such as making the cat smile. By doing so, they train the correct use of verbs and adjectives. During the course of play, the toy raises its level of complexity and adapts to the kids’ acquired set of skills. By using conditional programming commands such as If-This-Then-That conditions, the children are able to write their own games and interact with the animals. They can also program the modules to interact with each other. As their skills evolve, the possibilities become endless. The toy allows the children to get creative and program complex things such as an alarm system that makes one cube turn red if the other one hears a noise by the door. By combining their own animals with those of other kids, games such as a digitally supported version of Marco Polo can be programmed.
Quazoo was developed by Berlin based designers Claudia Pineda de Castro and Maximilian Behrens as their Master’s project at Weißensee Art College. “Many of the migrants who are currently arriving in Germany are children. Understanding German is key for their future education. We wanted to provide those kids with an easy playful way of adapting to the new language”, Pineda de Castro says. In the digital age, a basic understanding of progamming is almost equally important, Behrens says: “The next generation is going to be seamlessly intertwined with the digital world. We want those digital natives to be more than passive consumers of the technology that surrounds them. Speaking the language of programming will help them to actively shape the digital world they live in.“
The two have built fully functioning prototypes in order to test their idea with several groups of children. The animals on the cubes can hear, speak, shiver and change colors as well as faces. “We didn’t want to ‘fake it till you make it’. We wanted the real deal. So our functional prototypes are big and chunky, because there is a lot of technology inside. But we have also designed some smaller, non-functioning prototypes to show the expected look and feel of Quazoo as a serial product”, Claudia Pineda de Castro says.
The designers are currently looking for partners to realize their project on a larger scale.