A build your own computer kit is great for all ages.
I’ve always been fascinated with electronics. I loved soldering wires together and when I learned about it, I even liked assembling Ethernet cables. I don’t know what my fascination was with wiring, but it’s always been of interest to me. At one point in time, I even entertained the thought of building my own computer. I had friends who were doing it and it sounded like a lot of fun. I never got very far into that adventure and now it seems overwhelming to me. Fortunately, we are in the age of discovery and STEM projects for elementary students are a ‘real’ thing. Product designers and software companies are making it easier for younger people to learn from the ground up how to code computer programs and even huge companies like Apple provide endless tools for people to learn this new skill. One of my favorite options for learning is brought to you by Kano, an innovative company that seeks to put tools into the hands of people who have the desire to learn.
The Computer Kit Touch from Kano is designed for kids age 6 and older. With it, you can learn to code with more than 100 challenges, make art, games, and music, and even Hack Minecraft. The kit is complete with an easy to understand, illustrated manual. The internal computer is a Raspberry Pi 3 with a 1.2GHz quad Cortex A53 64-bit processor. It has 1GB of RAM and a 400MHz Videocore IV graphics card. The computer is WiFi compatible and has 3 external USB-A ports for connectivity. The battery is a 3,000 mAh rechargeable battery. It will provide up to 3 hours of constant play and charges using a standard Micro USB cable. The kit comes with a 16GB Micro SD card for storage. While this piece lives on the inside of the tablet case, you could swap it out for a larger capacity card if you wish. The screen is a 10.1” touchscreen with an HD resolution of 1280 x 800.
When I first opened the box, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. The kit comes with a very easy to follow user manual. This is probably the most impressive part of the kit to me. The manual walks you through the process step by step and explains everything along the way. For example, the book is illustrated so you know for sure which part you are supposed to be using at every step. The first part you are introduced to is the ‘brain’. Here are the instructions that accompany the image of the processor.
“This is your computer’s brain. It’s tiny, but powerful. How does your computer think? If you look deep inside, it’s made of billions of electric switches.”
This is how the entire manual is outlined. All along the way, the book tells you the importance of each piece and how it translates to a finished computer. Another example of this is the introduction of the HDMI cable.
“Grab the yellow HDMI cable. Inside the cable are thousands of copper fibers twisted into 19 wires! This cable will carry pictures from your computer to your screen. It sends images, video, and more, using binary code.”
I feel like the explanations are simple enough for beginners to understand easily, but I also feel like it doesn’t ‘dumb’ down the process. After all, the goal of this kit is to be a learning tool for those interested in building and coding computers.
Another feature about this kit that I really like is that the parts are recognizable. Instead of asking users to pull out a soldering iron and twisting wires together — this is a tricky process and it can easily be screwed up — Kano provides all of the wires for connection in cable form. There are Micro USB cables and HDMI cables that are just plug and play. I would think that kids who are old enough to be using this kit would be able to recognize the different types of cables and in my opinion, things that are familiar are easier to understand.
Because I had a previous knowledge of technical things, I was able to get this kit put together within about 30 minutes. The assembly wasn’t the difficult thing to me, it was the programming and learning the coding aspect of it. I do have some knowledge of how code is supposed to come together, but remembering what coding sequences do what is a little harder for me. I think this is one part of the process I would love some additional information on — what commands do what. For example, the initial programming set-up you go through tell you to “Follow the white rabbit…” I loved this reference to not only Alice in Wonderland but also the Matrix. So the first command you enter is “cd rabbithole”. While this step gives you your first understanding of how the lines of code will be entered (code + ENTER = initiate action), you don’t get a quick sense of what the code is supposed to do. I did discover that once you get into some of the games – like Snake – you are told what each command does for the system.
After the initial startup, you can go through the coding lessons in a Story Mode, which is similar to an old 8-bit adventure game, or you can use any one of the multiple apps available. I was actually surprised to find that apps like Wikipedia and Gmail were available on the Kano tablet. There is even a Microsoft Office clone (LibreOffice). Is the tablet as responsive as something like an iPad? No. But it is surprisingly peppy for what it is. I can see kids really getting into assembling and playing around with this kit.
I’m not a big fan of the keyboard that came with the tablet. You have to press down fairly hard on the keys in order for them to register on the computer. That said, since what connects the keyboard to the Kano computer is a USB transmitter, I believe that any keyboard with that feature could be used in place of the standard kit keyboard.
The Kano Computer Kit Touch is a really intriguing option for teaching kids (and adults) how to build and program a computer. You get to start with it from the ground up and really take ownership of the product that sits before you. It’s a functioning computer/tablet and even though it’s a little bulky, you really get a sense of what it’s like to construct a device like this. I really think this is a great way to teach technology.