Episode 03: How to help your kids love computer science with Ruby

Episode 03: How to help your kids love computer science with Ruby

We are joined this week by author Linda Liukas, who created a wonderful series of children’s books called Hello Ruby. Linda got the idea for her books while learning computer programming herself and describes her books as “the world’s most whimsical way to learn about technology, computing and coding.” Linda also founded Rails Girls http://railsgirls.com, which organizes workshops to teach the basics of programming to girls and women. She joined us to talk about Ruby, her books and a brand-new YouTube series, Love Letters for Computers, that goes hand-in-hand with the Hello Ruby books.

In this episode we talk about:

1. Whimsicality! Linda and her Ruby books are proof that computer science and whimsical things are not mutually exclusive!

2. A universal desire to expose our kids to the technological world- her books have been translated into 28 different languages and are used by parents and teachers all over the world.

3. How Ruby came to be. While studying some “dull” (Linda’s words!) programming textbooks at Stanford University, Linda began doodling a young girl in her books, thinking about how a six-year-old girl would explain the concepts to her. Thus Ruby was “born!”

4. Exploring the idea that programming could be taught through stories rather than concepts. “I do feel that there is value in having these strong characters that…the children will memorize and remember as they grow older. Maybe they don’t actually make the connection of how they relate to the world of technology…but they have this strong emotional feeling that, ‘oh techonology is something that I can feel fearless and curious about; that I feel welcome to. I think that is what books can do far better than apps and other ways to teach.”

5. Ruby is joined by a whole cast of characters that were inspired by different aspects of computers, like Ruby herself (Ruby is a Japanese programming language). While you don’t need to know the inspiration behind each character to enjoy the story, there are plenty of easter eggs for parents and teachers familiar with the tech world to find on each page!

6. Even though our kids are growing up surrounded by technology and start using it proficiently at a very young age, there is great value in teaching them (and ourselves if we are not familiar with it) about what goes into creating these things. “Kids who know how to play games are consumers of technology, not creators. The fact that they can use apps does not mean that they have some magical understanding of…computer science.”

7. We as parents do not need to be an expert on the subject when introducing our kids to new information, we can be more of a “curator.”

8. Studies are showing that kids, especially girls as young as 5 and 6 are already developing self-limiting ideas about who can or can’t be a computer scientist.

9. Coding may be touted as a useful skill, but it can also be beautiful and interesting and “intensely creative.” Linda believes that we need more materials that show the “practicality of engineering meeting…the beauty of [the] arts…”

10. While it wasn’t their intended purpose, the Ruby books are being used more and more as a teaching tool in classrooms, so Linda has created a YouTube series, Love Letters for the Computer, intended as a resource for primary school teachers, with plans of a book to go along with it in the future.

Linda left us with a great idea of how to get started on putting these great ideas into practice this week. She invited us to check out the computer building activity https://www.helloruby.com/play/2  on the Hello Ruby website. We have done this with our own kids and we agree with Linda- it is a hit with kids of all ages and is a great activity to go along with the Hello Ruby books!

We are so grateful to Linda for taking the time to talk with us! More information about her, her books, and more can be found in the following places:

Instagram: @lindaliukas

Linda Liukas: http://lindaliukas.com

Hello Ruby: https://www.helloruby.com

Love Letters for Computers: http://www.helloruby.com/loveletters