Simple coding projects and DIY/maker boards can be a fun, practical way to introduce the art and science of engineering to kids, but a new book called “Lauren Ipsum, A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things” by Carlos Bueno makes an introduction to computational thinking into a fantastical adventure story for budding engineers.
Readers follow Lauren “Laurie” Ipsum as she goes on an Alice in Wonderland-style adventure into Userland. She begins her journey chased by frightening “Jargon” creatures until she’s lost – a familiar feeling for many beginners in the real world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). But she meets some helpful and not-so-helpful characters inspired by programming concepts that help her learn new thinking skills to find her way home. Pros will probably get a kick out of the punny nature of names and attributes of these characters and pick up on the common programming challenges she’s about to face.
Laurie learns logic methods and how to apply them to solve challenges like the traveling salesman problem, design algorithms to draw shapes, and analyze security measures like timing attacks. I particularly enjoyed when Laurie had to be clever to get around the complicated “Byzantine Process” in Byzantium, and learned to work smart, not hard from Bruto Fuerza’s follies. And I might find it hard to resist imagining turtles executing code instructions from now on…
The in-story challenges can be a bit wild, but they provide a fun approach to learning and emphasize creativity and imagination – important traits for today’s professional engineers and programmers who need to create new ideas to increasingly complex design challenges. A field guide in the back of the book draws connections between the wacky characters and real scientists, computer science concepts, and other real-world things, and calls on the reader to think up solutions to some additional challenges.
For STEM outreach programs, makerspaces, or just for fun, “Lauren Ipsum” would be a great introduction to the thinking skills and concepts that make a great engineer.
“Lauren Ipsum” is currently part of the Humble Brainiac Book Bundle, a pay-what-you-want bundle of kids programming/STEM education e-books from No Starch Press, which also includes “Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids,” “The Manga Guide to Electricity,” and “Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming” – helpful if you’re looking to raise future embedded engineers. You can find hands-on paper copies as well through No Starch Press or at Amazon and other retailers.