A project built on research

Designing and developing bloks project

Project Bloks is preceded and shaped by a long history of research: from Friedrich Froebel, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget’s pioneering work in the area of learning by experience, exploration, and manipulation to the research started in the 70s by Seymour Papert and Radia Perlman with Robot Logo, TORTIS, and everything in between.

More recently work in tangibles by MIT Media Lab and Tufts University have been highly influential. Approaches to visual programming — namely Scratch, ScratchJr, and Blockly — have also informed our approach.

The project evolved with the input of thought-leaders in many fields, including Computer Science, education, user experience research, and accessibility. During research and development we have worked and tested with more than 150 children. The project is still in active research.

We are looking for participants from around the world who would like to help shape the future of Computer Science education and tangibles by remotely taking part in our research studies later in the year. If that’s you, or you’d simply like updates on the progress of the project, please sign up.

Our Position Paper

Project Bloks: designing a development platform for tangible programming for children

In the 1960s, Seymour Papert advocated that all children should learn computer programming. Today, finally, millions of students are learning it, but there is a lot of work to be done to truly democratize this new literacy. Project Bloks is a platform to enable designers to create new and creative tangible coding languages and kits for children. Ultimately we want to offer a powerful and open hardware and software platform that makes it easy to invent novel ways for children to learn how to code, using new form factors, metaphors, and knowledge domains.

Download the position paper PDF here

Research that influenced us

Project Bloks wouldn’t be possible without the research and findings of these projects, amongst others.

Kids building application using Algoblocks
Algoblocks was one of the very first systems to allow children to program with blocks.
Suzuki, H., & Kato, H. (1993, August).
A small Braitenberg Creature
Braitenberg Creatures
The Braitenberg Creatures introduced the idea of creatures that would have code embedded into them — sensors and actuators would be connected in sophisticated ways to generate complex behavior with the need to program using a computer.
Hogg, D., Martin, F., Resnick, M. 1991
Example of Dr. Wagon Blocks
Dr. Wagon
Dr. Wagon introduced ideas such as stretchable command blocks, which could fit subprocedures. It also innovated in bringing a very child-friendly, organic, wood-based design.
Chawla, K., Chiou, M., Sandes, A., & Blikstein, P. (2013, June).
Mindstorm robotic kit

Image courtesy of: LEGO® Mindstorms RCX, photographed by Mairi

Mindstorms was the first popular robotics kit for kids. You still needed a computer to program it, but its design inspired generations of products after it.
Resnick, M., Martin, F., Berg, R., Borovoy, R., Colella, V., Kramer, K., and Silverman, B. 1998.
Quetzal elements example
Quetzal, similarly to Tern, used low-cost blocks with visual codes, and introduced some interesting physical analogies such as “Y” shaped conditionals.
Horn, M. S., & Jacob, R. J. (2007, February).
Lego Robo-Blocks elements
Robo-Blocks innovated in producing a low-cost kit that used a LEGO® car and simple command-blocks with alphanumeric displays and lights, offering new ways for children to debug programs on the fly, and have rich visual feedback.
Sipitakiat, A., and Nusen, N. 2012.
Tangible Bricks elements
Tangible Programming Bricks
Tangible Programming Bricks were one of the very first systems to use autonomous blocks with embedded electronics to allow kids to create programs.
McNerney, T. 2000.
Tern Blocks elements
Tern was one of the first and most complete systems for programming with blocks, introducing the innovation of visual codes for block identification, instead of embedding electronics in the blocks.
Horn, M.S. and Jacob, R.J.K. Tangible Programming in the Classroom with Tern.
Topobo robot sample
Topobo is one of the main systems that can be programmed without a computer — it is programmed by example: the system records the movements performed by the child on its parts, and plays it back for them.
Raffle, H., Parkes, A., and Ishii, H. 2004.
Representation of TurTan
TurTan used several innovations to create a system for children to explore programming in rich ways, bringing in the idea of a large display and low cost visual codes for command identification.
Gallardo, D., Julià, C. F., & Jorda, S. (2008, October).
Placeholder Image
Radia Perlman, while working at Seymour Papert's lab at MIT, created what is believed to be one of the first systems for programming with tangibles. Radia was an inspiration for generations of designers and, of course, to our team as well.
R. Perlman.