December 6 – It’s Computer Science Education Week

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About the Holiday

Computer Science Education Week was launched in 2009 to raise awareness of the importance of computer coding in all careers and to invite people to learn how to code. Students from kindergarten to grade 12 are especially encouraged to take an interest in computer science and learn coding skills and also to take part in Hour of Code programs at school and elsewhere. The holiday is celebrated in December to honor computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who was born December 9, 1906 and went on to become a United States Navy rear admiral. Her work with machine-independent programming languages led to the development of COBOL, and she was instrumental in many other early computer-related advancements. To celebrate this week, check out Hour of Code and try coding for yourself!

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing

Written by Dean Robbins | Illustrated by Lucy Knisley

 

“Margaret Hamilton loved to solve problems.” When she looked around, she saw many things that made her wonder “why?” Instead of going with the status quo, though, she came up with her own answers. Some things she questioned were why girls didn’t play baseball and why there were so few women doctors, scientists, judges and other professionals. So Margaret joined the baseball team and studied “hard in every subject at school—reading, music, art, and especially mathematics.”

From her father who was a poet and philosopher, Margaret learned about the universe. She wanted to know “how the planets moved, when the galaxies formed, and why the stars shone.” She loved to gaze “at the night sky in wonder.” She especially wanted to know more about the moon—how far away is it? How many miles is its orbit around the Earth? What is its diameter?

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Image copyright Lucy Knisley, 2017, text copyright Dean Robbins, 2017. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

In school, Margaret found it fun to solve “harder and harder math problems” in algebra, geometry, and calculus. “And then she discovered computers!” She realized that she could use computers to solve so many of her questions about the universe. She began writing code and called herself a software engineer. After starting with simple mathematical problems, Margaret moved on to writing code that “could track airplanes through the clouds,” predict the weather, and perform functions they never had before.

In 1964 she joined the team at NASA that was working on sending astronauts to the moon. In writing her code, “Margaret thought of everything that could happen on a trip to the moon.” What if the spacecraft went off course or lost power? What if one of the astronauts made a mistake? Margaret wrote code that could solve all of these problems and more. Soon Margaret was leading a team of her own as “Director of Software Programming for NASA’s Project Apollo.”

She was instrumental in helping Apollo 8 orbit the moon, Apollo 9 hook up with another ship in space, and Apollo 10 come “within nine miles of the moon’s surface.” When NASA was ready to land people on the moon, Margaret wrote the code. She thought of every problem that could arise and included a solution. The printout of her code stood taller than she was.

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Image copyright Lucy Knisley, 2017, text copyright Dean Robbins, 2017. Courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

On the day of Apollo 11’s launch, Margaret was in the control room while the world watched on television. It took four days for the spacecraft to reach the moon. Finally, the lunar module, Eagle, separated and was ready to make the landing. But just as it was about to descend, an astronaut flipped a switch that sent the Eagle’s computer into overload.

Had Margaret “prepared for this problem? Of course! Margaret’s code made the computer ignore the extra tasks and focus on the landing.” Slowly the Eagle approached the surface of the moon and touched down. “The Eagle has landed!” Neil Armstrong announced to an amazed audience. In NASA’s control room, everyone cheered. “Margaret was a hero!”

An Author’s Note with more information about and photographs of Margaret Hamilton follow the text.

With excellent examples from Margaret Hamilton’s childhood and adult life, Dean Robbins presents an accessible and compelling biography that reveals, from the beginning, Margaret’s curiosity, confidence, and convictions. Robbin’s focus on Margaret’s hard work, her excitement at discovering computers, and her leadership at NASA creates a narrative that is inspirational for all children. His emphasis on positive, affirming events in Margaret’s life is welcome, allowing girls and boys to realize that through dedication and self-assurance, they can achieve their goals just as Margaret—a superb role model—did.

Lucy Knisley’s bright, supportive illustrations, full of thought bubbles of Margaret’s ideas and wonderings, give readers the kinds of details that will spark their imaginations and help them understand and appreciate Margaret Hamilton’s many gifts and expertise. Images of mathematical problems give way to lines of code, helping children see the connection between what they’re learning at school and future careers. Kids interested in space exploration will be enthralled with the illustrations of the NASA control room and lunar launches.

For kids interested in computer science and other sciences, biographies, and history, Margaret and the Moon is an excellent addition to home as well as classroom and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399551857

Discover more about Dean Robbins and his books on his website.

To learn more about Lucy Knisley, her artwork, books, and comic, visit her website.

Computer Science Education Week Activity

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I Love Computers! Coloring Page

 

Learning to code is awesome! Why not try an Hour of Code here and then color this printable I Love Computers! Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review

October 11 – Ada Lovelace Day

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About the Holiday

Today we remember the woman who is regarded as “the first computer programmer.” A mathematician, inventor, and scientific pioneer, Ada Lovelace wrote and was the first to publish an algorithm to generate Bernoulli numbers. Her notes published in Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs in 1842 inspired Alan Turing to design the first modern computers 100 years later. Today’s holiday celebrates all women in the science, technology, mathematics, and engineering fields. To learn more about Ada Lovelace Day visit findingada.com.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by April Chu

 

Ada was the daughter of two very distinguished—and distinct—parents. Her mother loved geometry and was known as “‘The Princess of Parallelograms.’” Her father was a world-renowned poet, “beloved for his Romanic poems.” When Ada was still a baby, however, her mother left Lord Byron and his “scandalous behavior” behind, and “Ada never saw her father again.”

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Image copyright April Chu, text copyright Laurie Wallmark. Courtesy of crestonbooks.com

As was common in Ada’s time she was often left on her own while her mother traveled. Ada filled the hours and days writing, sketching, and inventing in her journal. When she was still a little girl, she built a set of wings for a flying machine she had imagined. To discover if her wings could actually fly, “Ada needed to compute the wings’ power. She broke the problem into steps—surface area and weight, wind speed and angles.” She had to multiply and divide again and again, and while she loved calculating numbers, Ada wondered if there wasn’t an easier way to find the answers.

As she sat at her desk one day a storm blew up, sending the curtains around her open window flapping. They reminded Ada of sails and she suddenly realized that sails were like wings. She grabbed her toy sailboat and headed out to a nearby pond to test her theories. She launched her boat over and over, and “each time she adjusted the sails and studied the effect on the little boat’s speed. A storm of numbers and calculations whirled in her mind and spilled onto her pages.” She stayed by the pond until dark, and “returned home muddy, dripping wet, and triumphant.” Her nanny was not pleased. She didn’t agree with Ada’s mother, instead believing that girls “should not waste their time with math and science and experiments and other such nonsense.”

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Image copyright April Chu, courtesy of aprilchu.com

Overnight, Ada developed a high fever, and the doctor diagnosed measles. Ada’s mother was sent for. She hurried home and spent the days and nights at Ada’s bedside reading to her. Ada’s “fever finally broke, but the measles left her paralyzed and blind. To keep Ada’s mind sharp, Mama quizzed her on math problems,” asking her harder and harder questions. The numbers kept her company, and in her imagination Ada used her flying machine to travel to London.

While Ada regained her sight in a few weeks, it was three years before she could walk again. During this time Ada’s mother hired tutors to teach her higher and higher level math. One of her tutors was Mary Fairfax Somerville, a famous scientist and mathematician. Somerville invited Ada and her mother to a gathering of other influential scientists, mathematicians, and inventors. There Ada met Charles Babbage. Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, was impressed by 17-year-old Ada’s knowledge and understanding and invited her to visit his laboratory.

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Image copyright April Chu, courtesy of aprilchu.com

Ada brought her journal and shared with Charles Babbage her own work. He didn’t treat Ada as a child but as a fellow scientist and engineer. Babbage showed Ada a mechanical calculator he had designed. With the turn of a handle cylinders of numbers on the three columns of his Difference Engine spun toward the answer to a math problem Ada posed: what is 15 x 12? The machine gave the right answer: 180!

Babbage also had an idea for a mechanical computer—and Analytical Engine—that “would solve harder problems by working through them step by step.” It was an amazing concept, but Babbage hadn’t built it yet. He gave Ada his notebooks and she studied Babbage’s descriptions of how the machine might work. She realized that the Analytical Engine could work if numbers told it how.

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Image copyright April Chu, courtesy of aprilchu.com

Over several months Ada created an algorithm—a set of mathematical instructions. Her journal was filled with lines and lines of numbers and symbols. At last she checked her work for errors and found none. Ada had developed the world’s first computer program! With her creative imagination she could see that someday computers would “design powerful flying machines and majestic sailing ships. They would draw pictures and compose music. And they would play games and help with schoolwork.”

Unfortunately, Charles Babbage never finished building his Analytical Machine, and Ada never saw her program in action. But future generations remembered her and her contributions to computer programming. There is even a computer program named for her. We can imagine that the little girl who wanted to fly would be very pleased to know that Ada helps guide modern flying machines.

An extensive Author’s Note, a timeline of Ada’s life as well as a partial bibliography and resources follow the text.

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Image copyright April Chu, text copyright Laurie Wallmark. Courtesy of crestonbooks.com

Laurie Wallmark’s compelling biography of Ada Lovelace is perfectly aimed at her young audience, highlighting Ada’s childhood dreams, obstacles, and events that led her to become an influential mathematician and inventor. Wallmark’s fast-paced text, which beautifully merges lyrical and technical language to tell Ada’s story, is uplifting in its revelation that from even a young age, Ada was respected and acknowledged for her intelligence and mathematical gifts. Illuminating Ada’s predictions for future uses of the computer forms a bridge between her foresight and the experience of today’s children, bringing history alive for readers.

Gorgeous, detailed illustrations set Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine firmly in its 19th-century time period. Lush greens, reds, and golds welcome readers into Ada’s home, where her wooden and paper wings lay among blueprints for other inventions as Ada sits at her desk jotting notes in her journal. A mural in her home cleverly depicts Ada’s imaginings while she recovered from the measles, and the gathering that Ada and her mother attend is a stimulating portrait of the scientists and new inventions of the day. Kids will be amazed to see one of the first “calculators” as built by Charles Babbage. Included on the pages are images of an early loom and punch cards that influenced the development of our computers. It is fitting that the last page shows how far we have come—and how forward thinking Ada was—with an illustration of Space technology in action.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is an important biography that should be included in every public and school library. For children interested in history, biographies, and the science and math fields, Laurie Wallmark’s and April Chu’s book would make a beautiful gift and addition to home bookshelves as well.

Ages 5 – 10

Creston Books, LLC, 2015 | ISBN 978-1939547200

Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and download curriculum and activity guides on her website!

View a portfolio of artwork and learn more about April Chu’s books on her website

This is one book trailer that really computes!

Ada Lovelace Day Activity

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Love Your Computer! Coloring Page

 

What would we do without our computers? Here’s a fun printable Love Your Computer! coloring page for you to enjoy!

Picture Book Review

May 31 – Web Designer Day

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About the Holiday

Today we laud all the brilliant web designers who bring us our favorite sites and make it so easy for us to shop, do business, watch videos, and play games. We can’t even imagine life without them anymore. If you know a web designer, thank them for their hard work!

Coding Games in Scratch: A Step-by-Step Visual Guide to Building Your Own Computer Games

By Jon Woodcock

 

Video games are so fun to play! You know you’re good at them; don’t you sometimes wish you could make one of your own? With Coding Games in Scratch, you can! In just 11 chapters you’ll discover all the basics of creating different kinds of games plus how to add special effects, cool characters, exciting backgrounds, music and sounds, and more.

Chapter 1 reveals what makes a game fun to play. Things like characters, objects, obstacles, the mechanics of the game, story, sound, speed, atmosphere, rules, goals, and difficulty levels all contribute to the playability and enjoyment of the games you create. Discussions of the various types of games and a bit about coding round out Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 introduces the programming language Scratch developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT. Here you’ll learn about objects, scripts, and running a program. It shows you where to get Scratch and provides a tour.

Chapter 3 welcomes you to building your first game—Star Hunter, which is a fast-paced underwater treasure hunt. Some of the things you’ll learn include setting the scene, building the script, adding sound, how to introduce an enemy, collisions, and collecting stars. Plus you’ll learn some hacks and tweaks for making your game the best it can be.

Love maze games? Chapter 4 shows you how to build Cheese Chase and help Mimi the mouse find her cheese while avoiding beetles and ghosts. Here you also learn about keyboard control, using the paint editor, making things spooky, creating intricate mazes, and how to move characters along the passages.

Chapter 5 covers Circle Wars—a quick-paced search and chase game full of clones and bouncing friendly and unfriendly circles. In Chapter 6 you’ll discover the gravity of the situation. Literally. Jumpy Monkey may love to leap, but he has to come to earth sometime!

Building Doom on the Broom from Chapter 7 introduces scene, casting spells, enemy attacks, explosions, adding harder enemies, and how to give players extra lives. Phew! Platform games are the subject of Chapter 8. You’ll find the ins, outs, ups, and downs, of jumping from platform to platform, falling, portals, progressing through levels, and more.

Racing games are covered in Chapter 9 with Glacier Race, where cars compete with the clock to avoid obstacles and gather the most gems. You’ll discover how to use game loops to keep the action happening just right, how to make a scrolling road, all about collisions and spins, and adding a penguin race official to start things off and end the race.

Music more your thing? Enjoy a brain teaser? Welcome to Chapter 10 and Tropical Tunes where you listen to drums play and then repeat the sounds you hear in an ever-growing song.

Now that you’ve learned to create video games, what’s next? Chapter 11 tells you about remixing and how to create your very own games. If you really love making games, there’s a section on the kinds of jobs there are in video gaming.

In Coding in Scratch Jon Woodcock clearly explains with text and illustrations how kids can create fun games with a good bit of complexity. Screen shots and digital imagery show kids exactly what they will encounter as they progress through the different kinds of games. Colorful pages and Woodcock’s easy-to-understand directions makes this a go-to guide for budding programmers.

So grab the book, your computer, and your creativity and start Coding Games in Scratch!

Ages 8 – 13

DK, Penguin Random House, 2015 | ISBN 978-1465439352

Web Designer Day Activity

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Computer Kids Find the Differences Puzzle

 

Whenever a designer builds a website there are bugs to work out. Can you discover the “bugs” in these pictures? Take a close look at this printable Computer Kids Puzzle and find the differences!