During the week of December 8th, our library will be participating in the 2014 Hour of Code. I’m still designing the after school program we’ll be hosting, but the idea is to introduce kids to the basics of computer programming in the informal learning environment also known as the library. Kids need to learn programming, whether it’s at school, the library or at home. It’s a 21st Century skill.
I’m always looking for ways to help kids see what’s behind the digital media we consume, what we can create with it, and what’s next. Learning to code, or just seeing what it’s all about, is a great example of that. Fortunately, kids are curious and many are fearless so introducing something new, like coding, in a fun, informal way usually works out well. I also recognize that the use of digital media in intentional ways offers motivation that crosses over to other learning areas like reading. For example, motivated Minecraft players check out every available Minecraft book in the library, over and over again.
The Hour of Code site offers great resources for planning so I started there. Combined with the free online tutorials they offer, I’ll also be incorporating several free and paid coding iPad apps that I have tested. This will be the inaugural program for the fleet of iPads my library received from the Alaska State Library and the Online With Libraries Initiative (OWL). We’ll be using laptops along with the iPads to provide additional access during the program(s).
I’ll admit that I know only a little about programming. It’s on my list of 2014 professional development goals and I’m slowly figuring out the basics. Unlike my brother who was working as a programmer at 15, I was not interested as a kid, teen, or even youngish adult. I’ve been learning as I introduce the concept to my own kids and kids at the library. It’s a fun way to learn! The kids see me exploring, problem solving, and even getting frustrated as we figure it out together. I figure I’m promoting lifelong learning.
For now here are a few coding apps that I’ll be introducing kids to in December. As I’ve reviewed them for inclusion in the Hour of Code program, I’ve thought about why I didn’t learn to code and how I can make the experience different for kids in my community. For example, what will inspire my daughter, and girls her age, to dive in?
Have any suggestions for my program or an experience to share? Please send them my way! I’d love to hear what other libraries have planned.
Developer: Lightbot Inc.
Platform: iOS (Mac, iPhone/iTouch, iPad), Google Play, Amazon (Kindle Fire), Windows, Web Browser (Hour of Code free lite version)
Cost: $2.99 (Lightbot One Hour Coding iOS and Android version are free- see note below)
Ages: 5+, recommended for ages 9-11
Lightbot is a 3D game-style app that teaches the basic concepts of programming. Each of 50 levels is played in order and teaches young coders to use commands to solve puzzles by moving a whimsical robot from square to square and lighting up specific tiles. The app introduces programming vocabulary and encourages an understanding of procedures, loops and conditionals. The app includes coins and stars to show progress. No in-app purchases, ads or social media links. Background music can be toggled on/off and instructional text language can be changed in the home screen. Lightbot Jr., a simpler version designed for younger coders, is also available.
Note: Lightbot One Hour Coding, a special iOS and Android version released for the 2014 Hour of Code event, is temporarily available and offers a limited, free version of the full app. It includes 14 levels.
Platform: iOS (iPad only)
Price: Free, with in-app purchases for additional levels and classroom subscription
Kodable is a colorful, richly featured app that introduces kids to programming in a 2D game-style format. The stars of the app are fuzzes, fuzz balls exploring the universe. Young coders guide the fuzzes around the Kodable world by using drag and drop directional arrows (commands) to move the fuzzes along squares and collect coins. (Note: The orientation is slightly different than in the 3D oriented Lightbot app mentioned above and will require a shift in thinking if moving from one app to the next). The free version of the app features 45 levels that are completed sequentially.
Narrated tips and a small hand hover over correct commands if help is needed. Music can be turned off in the settings menu on the home screen. The free version of the app has in-app purchases for additional levels and links to the classroom version. Up to five profiles can be made within the free version. The app includes access to valuable teaching guides for adults as well as settings to lock and unlock levels for individual coders.
Tynker is a unique app in this list because it combines the game play format with game creation. The non-competitive game portion of the app involves programming Codey, one of several kid-friendly characters, to move across the screen towards the end goal- a candy prize. Drag and drop commands are moved from a bank on the left to an ordered list at the top of the screen. Basic command blocks, like “walk” and “jump,” are clicked together in an order below the “on start” block to form a sequence of commands that Codey will follow. Repeat blocks can also be used at different levels, introducing the loop. When Codey starts, the command being used is highlighted in the string of command blocks, making the connection between what Codey is doing and the code written. If the code doesn’t accomplish the goal then Codey stops and the coder can go back and edit the code. A variety of games can be purchased as in-app purchases, but the Codey’s Quest comes with the free version. Paid puzzles with additional characters, include Lost in Space, Dragon Journey and Lazer Racer.
After playing with Codey, or one of the other characters, the Tynker app includes opportunities to build or modify a game using the same drag and drop coding blocks. This part of the app is about exploring, playing, and testing. The app offers immediate feedback with the ability to run a test and see if, for example, the newly designed character dances if tapped or sound effects play. Coders will get to see behind the game.
Doing a quick math problem, provides access through a parent gate to puzzle settings, where the puzzle solution and a button to reset a puzzle can be found, and a link to the Tynker website for more information about online coding courses for kids.
Internet connectivity is not required to play the games, only to download sample games in the game creation area. The background music can be turned off in a drop down menu found within each game.
Other iOS apps to check out:
Codecademy: Hour of Code
The Foos: Code for an Hour FREE
Hopscotch, Programming Design for Everyone: Coding for Kids