Using Blockly to Help Make Sense of Abstract Things


There’s a lot of interest in using Blockly to visualize abstract concepts. One of the first examples of this was the Google Cloud Platform blog post “What is a Container?” which used Blockly to explain how Docker containers work. It’s great to see Blockly being used as a tool for educational purposes, and we’re excited about the potential that presents.

I wanted to make sure people knew that it was easy to do this with Blockly, and so last week I started writing a series of blog posts that show you how to do that. The first one, “Blockly: How To Make Sense of Abstract Things” shows you how to use Blockly to make sense of large chunks of information in a simple and intuitive manner. The second one, “Blockly: How To Make Sense of Abstract Things” will show you how to use Blockly to make sense of large chunks of information in a simple and intuitive manner.

The third one is a little different because it shows you how we made sense of some abstract things by using Blockly. Read on!

Blockly has been built as an educational tool from the beginning. It has always been part of our mission statement that we would help students learn computer science concepts using Blockly tools, tools that are

Blockly is a web-based, graphical programming environment. Users can drag blocks together to build an application, and Blockly generates the code automatically. It’s used by a number of Google applications, like App Inventor and Maps Engine. But there’s another use for Blockly: helping make sense of abstract things.

We recently launched the Google Developers Live block, which lets you embed videos from your favorite Developers Live (g.co/live) events on your website or blog. The block is a good example of how you can use Blockly to interact with Google services in powerful ways.

The GDL block is essentially a mini-app that performs two main functions: searching through Google Developers Live videos and displaying those that match your search criteria. The app uses the YouTube Data API to retrieve information about Developers Live events, shows matching videos on the page, and then lets users paste the HTML snippet onto their site or blog.*

I’m headed to Google’s campus today for the Blockly Developer Summit, a two-day event with developers from all over the world who are using Blockly in their educational products and applications. The first day will focus on how to use Blockly in education and the second day will get deep into the technical details of the source code.

Blockly is an open-source library that adds a visual code editor to web and mobile apps. It is a powerful tool to help users make sense of abstract things by providing a concrete, interactive interface that allows them to see what they are doing. For example, Blockly can be used to create a visual programming language, where dragging around colorful blocks creates instructions that can then be executed by a computer program.

Blockly has been around since 2012, but it has never had any dedicated educational resources — until now. I’ve been given the opportunity to work full time on developing open source JavaScript tools for using Blockly in education. Some of my goals include creating step-by-step tutorials for teachers, bringing together the community of educators using Blockly, and redesigning the interface for young children.

What is Blockly?

One of the most common questions we hear when we talk about Blockly is: “What is it?”

Blockly is a visual programming language that helps people make sense of abstract things. You might have used it in the App Inventor or with the Code.org lessons, but Blockly has another purpose as well — to help developers build interfaces for programming concepts.

Let’s say you’re using a service that takes in a blob of data and processes it to give you useful information. You’re excited to try out this new service, but then you see this:

What do all those symbols mean? How are they related? How would you even begin to figure out how to use that interface?

This is where Blockly can help. By providing an interface that lets users drag around blocks instead of typing those symbols, Blockly can make a complex system feel simple and accessible. Let’s take a look at an example.

In this case, let’s say we want to create a program that checks to see if a number is greater than another number (e.g., input_1 > input_2). We could type it into our service like this:

But what if we’re not familiar with the syntax required

Last week, I got really excited about Blockly.

Blockly is a development tool for visual programming languages. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with it without writing any code.

I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of services that generate reports of different shapes and sizes – from basic summaries to large chunks of data that are difficult to make sense of in their raw format.

I decided to put Blockly to the test and see if it could help me make sense of all this data.

Imagine if you will, a service that generates a list of albums on my hard drive. It tells me how many songs there are in each album, how many minutes long each song is and how big each album is on disc (i.e., how much space it takes up).

The best way to demonstrate this is with a screenshot:

Last year, Google introduced Blockly, an open source visual programming environment. It has been used by tens of thousands of students in classrooms, museums and homes. It’s also available as a developer toolkit for others to build upon and extend.

While it is well-suited for teaching beginner and intermediate computer science concepts, we’re excited that Blockly can also be used to teach complex or abstract topics in general. The “Natural Language Toolkit” tutorial is one such example that uses Blockly to help teach Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP is the field of computer science concerned with making computers understand human language. It’s a hot area of research because computers need to understand language in order to communicate with us.

The first part of the tutorial allows you to visually experiment with different NLP techniques in a very simple way. You might not know what a particular technique does or even what you would use it for, but through experimentation you can quickly get a sense of how it works and whether it could be useful for you. The second part of the tutorial gives you the chance to learn about more complex techniques and see how they are implemented in code.

It was created by Steven Bird who is an Australian computer scientist who has done important work on NLP

A while back I stumbled upon an interesting little project called Google Blockly, which is a visual programming language using blocks to build programs.

I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of projects, but Blockly was different. It was well designed and showed true promise in its ability to help solve problems in the future.

I obviously wasn’t the only one who noticed – Google has added the project to their developer website, and has even developed a game with it.


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