Two little kids with big grins came to fetch me. Roy and Kasha looked as delighted as I felt to be rescued from the grey busyness going on among the grey adults in the school admin office.
Up the stairs and along the corridors lined with lockers, just like the ones seen in tv shows, the classroom held two dozen more kids grouped in threes and fours. Their postures were terrible. It was not just that they slouched. Their arms and lags stuck out at odd angles like rose bushes that needed pruning, many heads were resting on desktops just as if they had marched for a week to get here and faces were sheltered behind a hand or shoulder as if they were so many shy Victorian maidens. It was all a bit of a shock for someone who was last in school in rural Scotland where we sat in ordered ranks, backs straight and facing forward.
So, anyway, I launched into my introduction. When I am working on Computer Science I call myself ‘Speaker To Robots’. I write code that lets people control their robots. Robots speak one language and people understand a completely different language, so they need me to help out. Let me tell you about a few of the robots I have spoken to …
Glancing around the untidy heaps of limbs that were my audience, I was caught by a bright flash of white from every pair of eyes. I realized that they were all paying close attention. Suddenly I was enjoying myself.
I finished up. Time for you to talk to some robots yourself. These are the characters that move around and interact in the world of Minecraft. The world is not real, it is a simulation, but the robots that populate the world are real robots – they work in the same way as real-life robots and you can talk to them, control them, in just the same way
They plunged in without hesitation. They zoomed. The room filled with a happy hubbub. These kids knew what they were doing, they were focused on getting it done, and with a speed that astonished me the puzzles were ticked off. I wandered around looking for someone who was stuck, but really I only needed to offer praise.
The best thing was the energy and application. The kids were busy trying this and that. No-one was hung up on what I have seen so many adult novice programmers hung up on: looking for the problem. Instead of sitting, waiting for inspiration to strike, they were busy.
It was a short hour and when the bell rang they all rushed off for lunch.