Tech round-up for December 2: Celebrate Computer Science Week, Minecraft in schools, downloading Netflix, and automated home gift ideas

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This week, Microsoft makes it easy for teachers to use Minecraft, Netflix makes it easy for everyone to watch TV and movies, and I make it easy for you to select an automated home gift. But first, we can all make it easy for kids to get ready for the future with Computer Science Week.

How to celebrate Computer Science Week

Next week is Computer Science Week, and there are lots of ways that kids can get involved in fun, free experiences.

Code.org has a bunch of free tutorials that teach the critical thinking skills that are at the core of coding and programming. There are Hour of Code tutorials based on Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen, and more.

There are also free workshops being held across Canada and the world next week.

Apple is staging free workshops at 487 Apple retail stores worldwide from December 5 through December 11, where participants will get an introduction to Swift Playgrounds, the free iPad app that has kids learning to program while having fun with the tablet.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is holding “Coding Camps” at Microsoft Stores where kids can work through a new Minecraft tutorial.

Minecraft moves into classrooms

Minecraft is a phenomenon. Often referred to as being digital Lego, the game/building tool/exploration toy is now available on nearly every digital platform you can imagine, from computers and game systems to smarphones and tablets.

And Microsoft, which owns the franchise, has now opened Minecraft up to educational institutions.

Minecraft: Education Edition is now available in 50 countries at the cost of only $5 per user, per year. Microsoft also has licensing discounts available for educational institutions.

In addition to the regular features, the Education Edition includes a Classroom Mode which gives educators control over world settings and lets them communicate with students, give them in-world items, and even teleport them.

A website, education.minecraft.net, provides support for teachers and instructors. At that site are lesson plans and opportunities to collaborate and connect with other educators.

Netflix gives customers an offline option

The streaming video company has updated its mobile apps – and it’s licensing agreements – so that viewers can download select TV shows and movies to watch later.

The idea is to help users curb their cellular data charges by letting them download video when connected to Wi-Fi.

Some of the options available for download include many, but not all, of the Netflix Originals. The new Gilmore Girls is not available for download in Canada, but The Crown and Black Mirror are.

Series including Breaking Bad and The Office are also available to download.

Gift ideas for those who are automating their home

Wink
At the centre of an automated home is the Wink Hub, which connects to and communicates with a bunch of different products from different manufacturers that use different protocols. With the Hub you can, with one interface, control a host of different LED bulbs and switches, programmable thermostats like Nest, connected outlets, and electronic locks.

August This family of products includes a smart lock that can be operated by your smartphone, a doorbell camera so that you can see who’s at your door even when you’re not at home, and a keypad that enables people to use a numerical code to open the door.

Dyson 360 Eye Robot vacuum
This little robot is the best thing that’s ever happened to our house. It’s got powerful suction that is expected of Dyson’s products and it can operate across any type of floor thanks to a tank track. It navigates the environment with ease while avoiding any obstacles, brings itself back to its docking station to charge, and remembers where it left off when it heads back out again.

Philips Hue LEDs
The Hue bulbs come in two configurations, white and colour. The white bulbs can be set to different “temperatures” of white, from cool to warm, and can even be set to automatically dim or brighten when you want them to. The colour bulbs can be dimmed, too, and can be set to emit the entire range of visible light colours.

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