Toy helps students promote computer science to kids

A toy based on R2-D2, the beloved “Star Wars” droid, made a guest appearance at the State University of New York at Fredonia for the Hour of Code, a nationwide program designed to promote interest in computer science and software programming in young students.

A discussion of how computer science impacts on daily life, as well as computer coding exercises performed by Forestville Central School students were all part of Fredonia’s inaugural Hour of Code program, hosted by the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the end of the fall semester.

Edward Blue, a December 2014 graduate who majored in Computer Information Systems at Fredonia, introduced R2-PC, an Astromech R2-D2 interactive droid from toymaker Hasbro that he shrewdly reconfigured into a Windows-based personal computer.

“My goal was to take a toy that was considered non-functional and convert it into a fully operational desktop PC for my son (Brendan), who had started to show interest in ‘Star Wars’,” Blue explained, “and to see if it could be done. It’s a way to look at things differently, to see what things can potentially become.”

Blue picked up the used R2-D2 on eBay for a mere $22. After more than a year and a half in development, it’s equipped with a “Star Wars”-themed Windows 7, 4 GB Crucial RAM 800 MHz, a 160 GB laptop hard drive and HDMI as well as digital/HD audio, Bluetooth and custom LED lighting. When hooked up to a keyboard, monitor and external DVD drive, it’ll perform just like any PC, but in a case from – as they say – a galaxy far, far away. Blue acquired the assorted PC components, also on eBay, for under $100.

Interior space for computer components was gained by removing “Artoo’s” original battery component. Circuit boards were relocated to the droid’s dome and enough space was found to include three small cooling fans.

Despite the extensive overhaul, Blue was able to retain most of the toy’s original functions, such as turning the head from side to side as well as answering questions, obeying commands and even playing music. “I hope to convert it so Windows can actually control those functions in the future,” he added.

“The students would be seeing the software side, the programming and security side of computers,” Blue said of the Hour of Code. “I wanted to show them the hardware side of it – the guts – which is something they do not usually see, and that there can also be an art to the science,” Blue explained. “I was also hoping that they would be able to look at the world around them and not just see what’s there, but what they could make of it. That’s something I try to instill in my children,” the father of three added.

In another session, Collin Preston, a senior CIS major from Rochester, gave a brief overview of computer science and how society uses products every day that involve computer science on some level.

One piece of technology that is directly the result of computer science that seems to be a part of every aspect of society today is the mobile phone,” Preston explained. “Whether it is the apps that are coded for the phones or the phones themselves, individuals utilize these products daily.”

Preston wrote a mobile phone app for Fredonia that allows students to request the campus bus through the app rather than calling the bus driver. He’s now engaged in research into better compression of digital medical images, specifically mammograms.

“This will help hospitals and doctors to be able to transmit images faster, reduce the amount of hardware storage and improve diagnostic practices,” he said.

Preston hopes the Hour of Code will change the views some may have about his field.

“The students had the same misconceptions and questions that I had when I first started learning computer science: science usually comes with the idea of test tubes and chemicals. It is hard to imagine what a science regarding computers is to a young kid,” Preston said.

Students learned how to identify computer code and think like a coder, he added, and left the class with a basic understanding of JavaScript, a language used on almost every website.

“The students were excited to be dropped right into coding and see instant results such as moving a character around a screen. I also wanted the students to see the valuable skill of being able to ‘play around’ with their code and be able to discover that there is no (one) correct way of writing code,” Preston explained.

Reneta Barneva, chair of the department, said Fredonia is always eager to demonstrate how exciting it can be to work with computers. Students in a technology course at Forestville also learned how to work with Alice, an innovative software development environment in which 3-D, computer-animated characters can be created using “drag-and-drop” techniques.

The Hour of Code activities were an idea of department faculty member Gregory Cole and were organized by his colleagues Derrik Decker, Dr. Michael Scialdone and Dr. Barneva.

In addition to his presentation, Blue introduced R2-PC at the department’s annual student expo, and attracted interest from AT&T, one of the event’s sponsors.

A non-traditional student with an associate’s degree in interior design from the Art Institute in Pittsburgh, Blue enrolled at Fredonia in the spring of 2013. Though limited to the transfer of 21 credit hours, he was able to complete three-and-a-half years of Fredonia course work in just two years.

He is a 1985 graduate of Fredonia Central School and now works as the multi-media director of the First United Methodist Church in Fredonia.

Toy helps students promote computer science to kids

A toy based on R2-D2, the beloved “Star Wars” droid, made a guest appearance at the State University of New York at Fredonia for the Hour of Code, a nationwide program designed to promote interest in computer science and software programming in young students.

A discussion of how computer science impacts on daily life, as well as computer coding exercises performed by Forestville Central School students were all part of Fredonia’s inaugural Hour of Code program, hosted by the Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the end of the fall semester.

Edward Blue, a December 2014 graduate who majored in Computer Information Systems at Fredonia, introduced R2-PC, an Astromech R2-D2 interactive droid from toymaker Hasbro that he shrewdly reconfigured into a Windows-based personal computer.

“My goal was to take a toy that was considered non-functional and convert it into a fully operational desktop PC for my son (Brendan), who had started to show interest in ‘Star Wars’,” Blue explained, “and to see if it could be done. It’s a way to look at things differently, to see what things can potentially become.”

Blue picked up the used R2-D2 on eBay for a mere $22. After more than a year and a half in development, it’s equipped with a “Star Wars”-themed Windows 7, 4 GB Crucial RAM 800 MHz, a 160 GB laptop hard drive and HDMI as well as digital/HD audio, Bluetooth and custom LED lighting. When hooked up to a keyboard, monitor and external DVD drive, it’ll perform just like any PC, but in a case from – as they say – a galaxy far, far away. Blue acquired the assorted PC components, also on eBay, for under $100.

Interior space for computer components was gained by removing “Artoo’s” original battery component. Circuit boards were relocated to the droid’s dome and enough space was found to include three small cooling fans.

Despite the extensive overhaul, Blue was able to retain most of the toy’s original functions, such as turning the head from side to side as well as answering questions, obeying commands and even playing music. “I hope to convert it so Windows can actually control those functions in the future,” he added.

“The students would be seeing the software side, the programming and security side of computers,” Blue said of the Hour of Code. “I wanted to show them the hardware side of it – the guts – which is something they do not usually see, and that there can also be an art to the science,” Blue explained. “I was also hoping that they would be able to look at the world around them and not just see what’s there, but what they could make of it. That’s something I try to instill in my children,” the father of three added.

In another session, Collin Preston, a senior CIS major from Rochester, gave a brief overview of computer science and how society uses products every day that involve computer science on some level.

One piece of technology that is directly the result of computer science that seems to be a part of every aspect of society today is the mobile phone,” Preston explained. “Whether it is the apps that are coded for the phones or the phones themselves, individuals utilize these products daily.”

Preston wrote a mobile phone app for Fredonia that allows students to request the campus bus through the app rather than calling the bus driver. He’s now engaged in research into better compression of digital medical images, specifically mammograms.

“This will help hospitals and doctors to be able to transmit images faster, reduce the amount of hardware storage and improve diagnostic practices,” he said.

Preston hopes the Hour of Code will change the views some may have about his field.

“The students had the same misconceptions and questions that I had when I first started learning computer science: science usually comes with the idea of test tubes and chemicals. It is hard to imagine what a science regarding computers is to a young kid,” Preston said.

Students learned how to identify computer code and think like a coder, he added, and left the class with a basic understanding of JavaScript, a language used on almost every website.

“The students were excited to be dropped right into coding and see instant results such as moving a character around a screen. I also wanted the students to see the valuable skill of being able to ‘play around’ with their code and be able to discover that there is no (one) correct way of writing code,” Preston explained.

Reneta Barneva, chair of the department, said Fredonia is always eager to demonstrate how exciting it can be to work with computers. Students in a technology course at Forestville also learned how to work with Alice, an innovative software development environment in which 3-D, computer-animated characters can be created using “drag-and-drop” techniques.

The Hour of Code activities were an idea of department faculty member Gregory Cole and were organized by his colleagues Derrik Decker, Dr. Michael Scialdone and Dr. Barneva.

In addition to his presentation, Blue introduced R2-PC at the department’s annual student expo, and attracted interest from AT&T, one of the event’s sponsors.

A non-traditional student with an associate’s degree in interior design from the Art Institute in Pittsburgh, Blue enrolled at Fredonia in the spring of 2013. Though limited to the transfer of 21 credit hours, he was able to complete three-and-a-half years of Fredonia course work in just two years.

He is a 1985 graduate of Fredonia Central School and now works as the multi-media director of the First United Methodist Church in Fredonia.