Father, son duo develop device that teaches coding

Father, son duo develop device that teaches coding
Mitchell and Dan Graboi, an Olivenhain father-and-son duo who, along with MiraCosta College professor Eric Robertson, produce a circuit board they call "SCIO" (pronounced skee-OH), which teaches users how to write code. Photo by Aaron Burgin

ENCINITAS — The green circuit board is no bigger than a business card. It has several flashing LED lights and a couple of buttons.

While it doesn’t look like much, the applications and the lessons that can be derived from it are boundless, say its creators.

The circuit board is “SCIO,” (pronounced skee-OH, after the Latin word meaning “I know”), the brainchild of Mitchell and Dan Graboi, an Olivenhain father-and-son duo who, along with MiraCosta College professor Eric Robertson, spent more than two years creating the device, which teaches users how to write code in a method simple enough that a 10-year-old child can grasp — literally.

“With such an emphasis being placed on STEMs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the education system, we wanted to create something that demystifies computer programming and coding,” said Dan Graboi, who earned his Ph.D. in human experimental psychology and did his doctoral research in human cognitive processing. Dan serves as the CEO of the startup Makerthreads, which was originally going to be a clothing line before the Grabois made a sharp turn towards programming.

“This really changes the way that you can teach programming and breaks it down in such a way that children can understand it,” Dan said.

Mitchell, who attends MiraCosta College, echoed his father’s sentiments.

“I look at it as an entire learning ecosystem,” he said. “There is much more than what you see.”

The company officially launched SCIO on Jan. 19 through a Kickstarter campaign, with a standard device selling for $50.

The device plugs into your personal computer and runs a software program in which users are able to write basic coding that enables the device to perform various tasks. In a tutorial found on the company’s Kickstarter campaign, users can learn how to program SCIO to perform a basic “light show,” with the lines of code turning on and off the LED lights in a patterned fashion.

From there, the applications and things SCIO can do are bounded essentially by the imagination of the user, the Grabois said, demonstrating some of the other tricks they have programmed SCIO to do.

One included writing a program that makes the device play various sounds when you wave your hand over one of its sensors. Another enables the device to play sounds when one of the small buttons on the base of the circuit board is touched, much like a drum machine.

Dan said he has written a program that enables SCIO to send a text message to his phone when he arrives at the family’s Olivenhain home.

A temperature sensor allows SCIO to gather weather data. An accelerometer allows it to calculate the 0-60 speed of a Ferrari (they’ve done it before) — you’re starting to get the picture.

“We want to show people that coding isn’t scary or daunting,” Mitchell said. “What you have is a complete interactive environment that is fun, and everybody gets into it.”

A key difference between SCIO and other coding and programming applications is that the user is learning how to write the code, whereas other apps use a drag-and-drop method known as “scratch programming.”

“The scratch programming is fine, but this is real coding, you are learning a procedural language and you are programming a real world object,” Dan said. “This is much more exciting to me.”

The company first introduced SCIO in the fall of 2015 to a group of middle- and high-school students at a conference at MiraCosta College as well as several private demonstrations to children and parents, all to positive feedback. Dan said he hopes to host demonstrations at other schools in the coming months.

First, however, the company is grappling with how to market the device to a broader audience, starting with the Kickstarter campaign, which will allow them to produce several online tutorial videos such as the one on the Kickstarter page.

“The biggest issue we’ve had is a communication issue,” Dan said. “SCIO does so much, we are having a problem getting the message out. Demonstrating it is one thing. Trying to sell it is a different story.”

Visit Makerthread’s Kickstarter campaign page at kickstarter.com/projects/816777132/scio-the-fun-new-way-to-learn/description

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