Computer Programming Archives - Eva Varga

December 11, 2017

A couple of years ago, I  shared an amazing new tech toy – Piper – which provided kids the opportunity to build their own computer from scratch all by playing Minecraft. What we love most about Piper is that the kids are involved in the construction at every level.PlayPiper

The Piper Computer Kit teaches kids engineering and computer programming through gameplay as well as the physical process of building a computer with hardware.

Piper’s mission is to empower the inventors of tomorrow by giving them the tools to build creatively today.

Piper Grows With Your Child

We have had such fun with Piper these past couple of years and are always impressed with how the company responds to our email queries as well as continually improves their product so that it can grow with the child.

PiperCodeRecently, they announced the biggest update in the company’s history … Programming!  Yes – computer programming code the kids write themselves! How cool is that?!

Kids can now learn to program and control electronics from their own Piper computer starting today! Each project contains step by step instructions to get kids engaged immediately in making awesome creations from the start. For example,

  • Make an LED blink at the touch of a button
  • Design a game to see who can set off a buzzer the fastest
  • Create a light show set to musicPiper allows you to be creative with coding from the very start.  All experience levels are welcome.

Unfamiliar with Coding Yourself?

Piper has us parents covered, too. They provide a multitude of lesson plans to ensure teaching PiperCode is simple and rewarding for students in grade third and above.  Even if you don’t know how to code yourself, you will have fun learning alongside your kids.

Check out the additional resources for educators at Piper to learn more, including how to disassemble Piper and reuse the components with new students. 

Already Own Piper? 

Existing Piper customers should follow these simple steps to download PiperCode:

  • Turn on your Piper Computer
  • Connect to the internet
  • A message will appear alerting you there is an update
  • Click on the UPDATE button
  • Say goodbye to Piper Classic and welcome to the new Piper!

November 17, 2016

My son has a growing interest in computer programming and computer science. I have thereby scoured the internet in search of quality materials that are engaging and inexpensive.

free-computer-programming-classesComputer Science Education Week (December 5-11, 2016) is almost here. You’ll find a wealth of resources at®. Together with the resources listed below, you are guaranteed to have material and inspiration to teach computer science and programming all year-round.

This annual program is dedicated to inspiring K-12 students to take interest in computer science. Originally conceived by the Computing in the Core coalition,® organizes CSEdWeek as a grassroots campaign supported by 350 partners and 100,000 educators worldwide.

5 Free Computer Programming Courses for Kids

Microsoft and Mojang are announcing the all-new Minecraft Hour of Code Designer, a tutorial that lets students code their own Minecraft rules. This year, students can use code to control how animals and other Minecraft creatures behave—they can create a totally unique Minecraft experience, and then share it with friends or play it on their phones!

hourcode_minecraftA collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Khan Academy, Pixar in a Box is designed especially for students in middle and high school. This free course sponsored by Disney, is a series of video lessons, interactive exercises, and hands-on activities.The course materials enable students to discover how the academic concepts they learn in school enable Pixar filmmakers to create new worlds, animate unique characters, and tell stories through animation.

If you are planning an Hour of Code event, be sure to signup and and look through the variety of tutorials and resources available for your students!

Tickle is easy to learn, fun to use, yet powerful enough for university courses and research projects. Experience the magic of programming drones, robots, smart homes, and Arduino, all wirelessly. You can even create custom robots by adding Arduino-based sensors and motors.

With Scratch, you can create your own interactive games, stories, animations — and share them with your friends. Get started by animating your name, creating a holiday card, or making a pong game.

Codecademy is an interactive, student-guided introduction to the basics of CS through JavaScript that’s used by tens of millions of students around the world. With accompanying quizzes, slides, and a completed project for students at the end, this is a perfect computer programming course for high school students.

piper4Computer Programming Kits & Resources

Computer programming and coding are not the only areas of career opportunity in the field of computer science. Computer science is the study of the theory, experimentation, and engineering that form the basis for the design and use of computers.

Piper is a complete DIY kit that provides kids with the chance to not only build their first computer but also learn about electronics along the way. Best of all, the kit grows with them. Included is the popular Raspberry Pi computer that budding makers can use in a variety of other projects.

Another exciting option is a monthly subscription box from Creation Crate, designed to help youth learn about electronics. Surprisingly, this box isn’t just for kids – it’s suitable for anyone age 12+ who wants to learn or enhance their electronics and coding skills. It’s fun and definitely educational!

Learn to modify the Minecraft game with Youth Digital’s Mod Design 1, a year-long online course that teaches kids programming with Java. Kids learn to code their own Minecraft mod from start to finish and watch as the end result becomes a unique, shareable Minecraft mod that they built from scratch. This course is currently available at a steep discount through Educents

5 More Free Online Computer Programming Courses

TheNewBoston is arguably the single best resource for anyone who wants to become a Programmer. The tutorials in this channel cover a range of different programming topics including developing for android and Web design. Bucky Roberts is the guy who manages the channel and teaches the lessons using a teaching style best described as entertaining and simple. His coding tutorials are very easy for almost anyone of any age to grasp. This channel should be on your list for sure.

Derek Banas is a Youtube content creator who is very famous for his ” Programming language in a single video “series. Just as the title of that playlist implies, Banas explains the core concepts of a programming language in just one video. Among the content, you will find videos like Learn Java script in 30 Minutes and Learn the Ruby Programming Language in One Video. He explains a wide range of programming topics with content that includes thorough guides on PHP, along with MySQL and Java.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Minecraft

Pre-teens love Minecraft. Learn how to engage them in multiple subject areas with this Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Minecraft.

Treehouse is a educational resource established with the mission of providing affordable education. Treehouse offers lessons on numerous topics including coding in C# and Python. The videos are delivered in a casual and a easy-to-understand style by a variety of presenters. The channel’s content also includes the Treehouse Show, which is a roundup of web development and programming news along with helpful tips and interviews. is a great source for anyone who wishes to learn Web designing. In this channel, you will be walked through topics like jQuery  and JavaScript in Stern’s efficient and thorough style. The channel’s trailer is one of his most popular videos and provides web development career advice. This video outlines the paths that you can take on your way to becoming a professional web developer along with the order in which you have to learn things.

The tutorials at ProgrammingKnowledge are specifically geared for new programmers and range from an Android tutorial for beginners to Python, Java, and C++. Among the resources is a C programming tutorial that is considered the best course in that language that you will find anywhere. The channel (along with ProgrammingKnowledge blog) are owned by Yogesh Patel. The sheer number of videos (over 1,000) that are geared towards beginners makes this one of the first channels that anyone who wants to get into coding should bookmark.

University Courses in Computer Science & Programming

Stanford’s CS 101 class taught by Nick Parlante teaches the essential ideas of computer science for a zero-prior-experience audience. Play and experiment with short bits of code to bring to life to the power and limitations of computers. CS101 also provides a general background on computers today: what is a computer, what is hardware, what is software, what is the internet.

Harvard College’s CS50x offers an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming for majors and non-majors alike, with or without prior programming experience. Topics include abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development. Languages include C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML.

November 4, 20161

Piper is one of the most exciting tech toys we have had the pleasure to experience. It combines everything my kids love about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Best of all, it also incorporates MINECRAFT!! As you know, my son loves this video game. It has spurred his interest in computer science and programming.

I gifted the kids with Piper for Christmas last year and highly recommend it for youth interested in gaming, electronics, and programming. My kiddos collaborated together through the entire process of building and coding. It has been a joy to watch.

PIPER: The Best STEM Kit Available

This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information. 

The Piper Computer Kit teaches kids engineering and programming through Minecraft gameplay and physical building. Piper’s mission is to empower the inventors of tomorrow by giving them the tools to build creatively today.

What I love most about Piper is that the kids are involved in the construction at every level. The computer components are NOT assembled and thus the kit includes a large poster-size blue print outlining the step-by-step process by which to put the wooden box and hardware together.

My daughter loves to build things so the kids eagerly divided the tasks. She built the box and plugged in all the component pieces. My son got to do the coding.

PIPER: The Best STEM Kit Available

Now, Piper has developed a Stanford endorsed curriculum which you can use to help your child fully understand the basics of electronics, programming, and computing. It is available as a free download.

Best of all, the Piper Computer Kit comes with a Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. This capable little computer can be used in electronics projects, and for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word processing, browsing the internet, and playing games.

It also plays high-definition video. Thus, after your kids have moved away from Minecraft, the hardware can be repurposed for more elaborate projects. The designers want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming. With Piper and Minecraft – this is only the beginning. 

Piper Computer Kit

There are several purchasing options available. A single Piper Computer Kit is just $299, perfect for a homeschool setting (1-3 students) or as a station in your STEM workshop.

Alternatively, you can Rent-to-Own or try it out for just $49 per Piper, per month. It’s a low risk way of trying Piper because 100% of your rental cost may be applied to purchase.

Connect with Piper



April 25, 20162

My kids first discovered Minecraft a few years ago. At first, I didn’t see what was so fascinating about these pixelated worlds but the more they got pulled into the game the more I realized its full potential.

Together, my kids and I have learned so much as a result of this incredible game. This ultimate guide to Minecraft gathers the wisdom of homeschool bloggers like myself who have welcomed the learning opportunities this game provides.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Minecraft

This post contains affiliate links.

Building Models in Minecraft

It began three years ago when we returned home from a field trip to the Shasta Dam near Redding, California. My son took it upon himself to build an elaborate model of the dam inside Minecraft. It was then that I really understood.

Minecraft is available on multiple platforms. While we have both PC (computer based) and PE (pocket edition), my kids prefer PE which they play on their iPad. There is also a version for X-Box and PlayStation.

While Minecraft has been an creative outlet for both of my children, my son has been the most captivated by the creative worlds and gaming aspects. Since the beginning, Jeffrey has been most interested in the creative mode – one of two options players can choose. Occasionally he would play in the survival mode, battling zombies and creepers, but what he most enjoyed was building elaborate models of airplanes, private yachts, and designing modern homes for the rich and famous owners of these expensive modes of transportation.

Would you be surprised to learn that the theme he selected for his Cover Story magazine is “Lifestyles of the Rich”? More details to come soon.

I am continually amazed at the creativity of kids. The following links provide examples of how Minecraft can be used as tool to create interactive projects that showcase what students are learning in a variety of subjects.

Building an Interactive History Museum in Minecraft – Our friend Marianna created an elaborate exhibit to showcase the life of Susan B. Anthony, bringing to pixelated life the house she was born in, her childhood school room, statues of Susan’s family, voting booths, the meeting room where the International Council of Women met, and more!

Using Minecraft for Homeschool History and Science Lessons – Ticia shares a variety of ideas for using Minecraft in history and science. “Imagine the enthusiasm your child will have when you say, “Now go build the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.””

Students may also be interested in using a 3D printer to create actual models they can hold in their hands, 3D Printing with Minecraft.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Minecraft @EvaVarga.netCoding Minecraft Servers

As Jeffrey’s building skills progressed, he began to play on other servers. Initially homeschool servers with parent moderators overseeing the content of the chat, but soon he was joining servers with players all over the world. Little did I realize that he would soon want a server of his own.

Finding a Server Host

His first server was hosted on LEET where he could host up to 5 players. There were several plugins to change game play (warps, ranks, etc.) which were installed with just a tap. With this server he learned how to create mini-games (games players can engage in within the Minecraft platform). His server became very popular and was listed on their featured list.

As other players made donations to offset the hosting fees – he added more plugins and upgraded to a 40 player limit. He eventually left LEET, however, because he often experienced significant lag and downtime.

His server is now hosted on Netherbox which is not only more stable but also supports a much larger variety of plugins. With Netherbox, he also has access to the control panel and can thereby manipulate the java code of a desired plugin to better suit his objectives. He has thereby learned a great deal about java programming simply by trial and error and via online tutorials.

The customer service provided by Netherbox has been great. They respond to our queries in a timely manner and have always been helpful in troubleshooting.

Dealing with Hackers

With both server hosts, he has experienced hackers who have destroyed the span hub. He has had to continually rebuild and devote time to banning offending players. Yes – in the beginning he had been brought to tears. Each time, however, he vowed to not let the griefer get to him and his determination has never wavered.

 I’ll build a better hub. I’ll learn from this and improve my skills. I want to host my own server so I can control the environment. I ban people if they use bad words or grief. I have a list of rules posted and if others want to play on my server, they agree to the rules.

As he became more interested in computer programming, I began to look for fun programming resources. I reached out to my friends at Piper and they recommended Youth Digital.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Minecraft @EvaVarga.netYouth Digital Courses 

Nothing encourages fun learning more than connecting games to educational lessons. The creators at Youth Digital utilize the familiar gaming platform as a means to teach more in-depth computer science material including Java coding and animation. Here are a few opportunities for kids to learn new skills using a game they already love.

Youth Digital’s Server Design – Kids learn the basics of one of the most popular coding languages in the world as they modify real Java code to build their own Minecraft server.

Mod Design: Learn Java with Minecraft – A browser-based software program that teaches students how to mod the PC-version of Minecraft.

3D Character Animation – An exciting online course that teaches kids how to create animated movies using their favorite Minecraft characters with a focus on facial expressions and biped animation.Ultimate Guide to Teaching with Minecraft

Other Learning Opportunities with Minecraft

The learning opportunities are not limited to activities within the gaming environment. Their passion for Minecraft often spills over into other areas of their life. Check out the projects of these wonderfully creative youth:

If you are looking for Minecraft Writing Prompts, Write Shop has just what you need. Their initial set of prompts was so popular, the developed second set of prompts, More Minecraft Writing Prompts.

Erin shares her daughter’s ingenuity in creating a game to help her younger brother to Master Math Facts with Minecraft.

In her post, An Easy Sewing Project for Teens Who Love Minecraft, Megan shares a tower of adorable stuffs created by her daughter, Marianna.

Kids aren’t the only ones inspired by Mojang’s popular game. Check out these fabulous 2016 Minecraft Calendar / Planner Pages for Kids that Amy has created.

My son loved Amy’s ideas for a Minecraft Birthday Party and Minecraft Christmas Tree. We have printed off many of her printables and loved them all.

Amy has also created a delightful set of Minecraft Story Cubes you can incorporate use for creative writing and storytelling. “Throw the cubes into the air, see whatever topic appears, and then let your imagination take over.”

Learn with Piper @EvaVarga.netOther companies have caught on to the popularity as well. Piper has developed an ingenious Raspberry Pi based computer kit that teaches kids electronics, engineering, and computer programming by playing Minecraft; Learn With Piper: Coding, Computer Programming, & Electronics.

Skrafty is a full-featured gaming server designed specifically for homeschoolers that provides an online education site integrating the lessons with the game. They offer a wide variety of courses including a new Writing and Grammar Class with IEW coming this fall. Until then, you may want to print their Story Prompt Cube Printable.

Another full-featured gaming server is GamEd Academy. Their goal is to create a program for students age 6 to 16 that is regarded both for its academic excellence and for its contribution to joy-based learning. They offer both introductory and core courses designed to supplement or replace your existing curriculum. Check out all their course options in science, social studies, and language arts.

Parental Challenges

Every family has it’s own experiences and opinions about Minecraft. It can be a valuable teaching tool but as Sallie Boring stated in her post, “The game is highly-engaging, bordering on addictive.” Here are a few perspectives from other families and how they have tackled issues as they have arose.

Our Family’s Experience with Minecraft – Sallie provides a glimpse into her daughter’s interest in the game and the decisions they have made, “One choice we have deliberately made is to not turn Minecraft into school.”

Practical Lessons Kids are Learning from Minecraft – You won’t want to miss Susan’s post where she shares how the skills kids are learning are NOT limited to programming and game design/development.

~ ~ ~

Interested in exploring other topics? The bloggers at iHomeschool Network have collaborated to bring you a variety of Ultimate Guides.

December 14, 20152
I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

computerprogrammingWhy limit your child’s exposure to computer programming to just a single hour annually?  Fischertechnik provides the materials and curriculum support to engage students in basic computer programming skills year round. 

Last month I shared how excited we were to discover the Introduction to STEM I Kit in my post Play and Learn with Fischertechnik. We have since spent weeks building the various models and discovering how everyday technology and simple machines actually work.

How Does It Work In Our Homeschool?

When the Introduction to STEM I & II Kits arrived at our home, we immediately opened all of the materials and of course Jeffrey was SO excited to just BUILD something. I let him experiment with all of the pieces for a few weeks and he built model after model. It wasn’t long before the models he was building caught the attention of his older sister. She wanted in on the fun as well.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we sat down with our cousins (the more the merrier!) and installed the software. This was as easy as putting the disc in the computer.

I promise.

programfischertechnikComputer Programming with Fischertechnik

The girls jumped right in and immediately began to CONSTRUCT a merry-go-round model without any problems. The instructions took them through the process step by step. The process is very achievable for this age level.

They then spent a little time with the software and soon figured out the basic PROGRAM to get the wheel to operate a series of simple commands. The ROBO Pro light software programming is drag and drop, so it’s very easy to learn! A sample is given on screen as well as in the accompanying guide book.

After the model had been built, it was time to CONTEMPLATE why things worked they way they did and for further experimentation. Once the girls were familiar with what each of the different buttons did, they were ready to begin experimenting in all kinds of ways.The curriculum guide provides suggestions for assessment questions to aide students in reflecting on the process.

Finally, students are invited to CONTINUE their learning with more experimentation and a challenge to build and program more complex models and interactions.  My daughter is now motivated to learn MORE.

The Introduction to STEM II kit allows elementary classrooms of different ages to enter the exciting world of STEM and learn the basic skills of computer programming – an exciting activity for young people. 

fischertechnikMaking the Investment in Fischertechnik

If your child is interested in engineering and computer programming, I strongly suggest you invest in Fischertechnik products.

While the cost may at first seem high (the kits begin at $99), you receive a versatile set of bricks, sensors, motors, and a USB connection, along with the software and teacher’s guide. This enables your student to build the 12 models, but from there the creativity is LIMITLESS.

The Introduction to STEM I kit contains 500 pieces with instructions for building 40 different models in all. Students can build a centrifugal governor, manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and so much more.

The Introduction to STEM II contains 200 additional fischertechnik parts, including:

  • ROBO LT Controller (USB interface/USB power supply)
  • ROBO PRO Light software
  • An XS motor
  • 2 lights
  • A lens tip lamp
  • Photo-transistor
  • 2 switches

Of course, my kids love the models they have made with the instructions, but they also loves to be creative. They have now begun experimenting with the variety of components.

The beauty of this is that they are thinking through problems and solutions; asking good questions. Skills that will serve them later in life.

Interested? Order a free sample activity kit today! 

November 2, 2015

I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

When the Fed-Ex truck pulled up and the driver rang our door bell, my son raced to answer the door. He’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a cool new construction toy, fischertechnik, since I first shared with him their website the week prior.

My son loves to build and like many children his age is fascinated by robotics and construction. I knew the fischertechnik system was going to grab his attention and pull him into the STEM concepts we have so enjoyed.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik

Open the World of Technology

fischertechnik is the flexible and innovative construction system built around the unique fischertechnik building block, which allows attachment to all six sides. fischertechnik is used widely in schools around the globe to enable students to explore, hands-on, STEM concepts such as Mechanics, Statics, Pneumatics, Renewable Energies, Electronics, and Robotics.

I am excited to share with you the recently released pair of new products called the fischertechnik Education “Introduction to STEM” I & II. These sets are specifically designed for introducing students in grades 2 thru 5 to STEM concepts and methodology, with the focus on simple machines, and an introduction to robotics and programming.

fischertechnik Introduction to STEM I Kit

Jeffrey immediately began to sort the 500 pieces into the compartments provided within the sturdy storage box (I love this!). As an experienced builder, he knew the time he spent organizing at the start would save time searching for a piece later.

“The pieces are so cool, Mom! They connect on all sides, you can change some around, and they lock in place. These are better than Lego!”

As he continued to sort, I scanned the detailed, full-color 170 page instruction booklet and shared with him some of the projects he could build: a manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and more.

He was immediately drawn to the merry-go-round, one of the more complicated projects, and construction was soon underway. The Introduction to STEM I Kit is a great introduction to how simple machines work.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik

Activities & Curriculum

As an educator, one of the things I love best about the Introduction to STEM I Kit is the curriculum. The standards based curriculum provides everything you need to conduct the various lessons; from activity sheets and step-by-step instructions, to rubrics for assessment purposes. For classroom teachers, the education materials are laid out by grade level and establish a quick look at the goals and models to be constructed.

Having traveled quite extensively, we have had the opportunity to observe windmills in many locations (Maui, HI; Tehachapi, CA; San Francisco, CA, and most recently on the island of Mykonos, Greece). The optional project based research activity was the perfect way to integrate Jeffrey’s real-life experiences with STEM concepts.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik @EvaVarga.netWindmills transform the motion of the wind into rotary motion that humans use to accomplish work. We discussed the windmills we had observed and how each had been designed for specific work.

The wind turbine project described in the enclosed instruction manual requires students to turn a crank which causes the blades to turn and thereby move wind. The problem is to reverse the energy process from the wind turbine project. Utilizing the education materials I had downloaded as a guide, I challenged him to remove the crank and design a method of attaching gears or pulleys to transfer the power to another device. He loved the challenge!

I am confidant kids will love building the models, performing the activities, and then taking it apart to build another project. Join me next month when I share our experiences with the fischertechnik Introduction to STEM II Kit.