Mindprint Learning just sent over these SUPER COOL app reviews in honor of next week being the Computer Science Education Week. Here are some great suggestions in preparation for the Hour of Code! (Is it one specific hour? No. You can do the Hour of Code anytime during this week.) Lightbot : Code Hour is an excellent introduction to drag and drop coding for middle and high school students, but students should be expected to outgrow the app relatively quickly, as it is designed to be mastered in an hour. Students progress through the visual puzzles, starting with programming basics and moving on to procedures and programming loops. The graphics are more appropriate for middle and high school students than the typical drag-and-drop introductory options, and the challenges require more logical reasoning with less explicit instruction. Students can visually see their correct or incorrect solutions based on how the robot moves and then make the appropriate changes. However, students who struggle with problem-solving skills might need adult support to understand how to take the visual feedback and adapt their "code" accordingly. Overall, a great introductory app for older students who need to conceptually understand the basics of computer programming.
PROSRun Marco! is an attractive adventure game for students 6-12 years old that teaches block-based coding. Players guide a character step-by-step through an adventure story using drag and drop functions, forward, turn left, repeat, etc., to form a series of movements. Students can test what they have coded by pressing the "play" button and can modify their code until the character moves correctly to the find treasure and unlock the next level. Block-based coding rules are presented in steps through a visual example, a new one at the beginning of each level. There are visual and verbal cues on each coding block, so students have reminders of what each block does. The pre-set paths are helpful for students who learn better with more concrete tasks. However, the game does not allow for students to choose their own paths or areas of interest, so students who prefer a more open-ended experience might not wish to continue once they get through the first few levels. See Considerations for students with weaker visual discrimination and fine motor skills. Overall Run Marco! is a nice option for young students, especially those who learn better through worked examples, to understand the basic principles of computer programming without having to get into technical coding languages. PROS
- Although it covers the very basics of drag-and-drop coding, it will be appropriate for middle and high school students.
- Provides clear visual feedback on mistakes, but students must troubleshoot independently.
- The interface is simple and easy to understand.
- Will be too simple for students who have a good conceptual understanding, so it might be difficult to use for a class with mixed experience.
- Offers implicit rather than explicit feedback on mistakes, so younger students or those who struggle with problem-solving might need adult support.
- Instruction is limited and students will need to be comfortable learning by doing rather than seeing examples first.
Hopscotch is a fun, visually appealing app that introduces students to coding their own animations using drag and drop functionality, but comes closer to using some of the technical terminologies than other apps. Users pick from among the cute characters to start. The app contains a list of code blocks on the left sidebar that can make the characters move left, right, up, down and collide. Most of the terminology will be intuitively understandable to most students, perhaps with some brief explanation from an adult, and it lays foundational knowledge for coding. For example, students need to change x by # and type in the number, or they "set line color" to blue. The user drags the code blocks and drops them into the script area. Users then test their code by playing the animation. Animations can be saved and shared via email. Students will need to learn with an adult or by experimenting on their own, as the tutorial itself is brief.
- The app characters are fun and are a good first step to engage students.
- In an easy-to-understand way, the app introduces coding terms such as "change x by #."
- There are sufficient options, but not so many as to be overwhelming for beginners.
- The tutorials are limited so many students may need adult support.
- The app provides an introduction to coding but has limited functionality compared to similar programs.
- The app does not provide explanations for some of the technical terminologies (e.g. set opacity).
- Run Marco! presents block-based coding concepts in a step-by-step manner using an adventure game approach.
- Students who enjoy adventure and exploration themes will find this app motivating.
- The pre-set paths are good for concrete learners who learn better with specific rule-based instructions.
- Scanning the screen and jumping between the game and the coding pad will be challenging for students with weaker visual processing skills.
- The drag and drop buttons are small and hard to manipulate for students with weaker fine motor and visual motor coordination.
- Students who expect more creative freedom might get bored with the pre-set challenges once they learn the basics of block coding.