In recent years there have been a large number of programs and apps made available to teachers, to assist teaching coding in primary classrooms. Previously I have taught coding using familiar programs such as Espresso Coding, Scratch and the brilliant Rapid Router, which were effective to varying degrees in teaching the fundamentals. For the most part my students enjoyed these lessons but I was only too happy to try something new, particularly something new on our mobile devices.
Hopscotch is a free educational coding app available on the iPad that allows users to create games, animations, stories and more. Although in this particular lesson the class being taught were Year Five, from my experience the app can used to teach students as young as KS1. Students gain an understanding of how computers function and are allowed the opportunity to create something of their own at the same time.
The interface is easy to navigate with its colour coordinated commands.
Everyone makes progress...
From the beginning of our lesson, it quickly became apparent that some students were just biting at the bit to be let loose and start coding with little teacher input. This is Hopscotch’s biggest advantage- just how accessible and easy to use it was for most of the children. To learn the basics was very simple. To master the more advanced skills took time, patience, curiosity and perseverance. Initial projects tackled included creating our favourite games such as Flappy Bird, Tapper and Geometry Dash. Progress was made at the student's pace and they were eager to solve problems for themselves through trial and error, and debugging algorithms. The interface is similar to that of Scratch, with its coloured block functions allowing commands to be snapped together to create an algorithm. The colorful characters, emojis and sound effects made it an enjoyable experience for the children, all the while they learnt about core coding fundamentals such as sequences, loops, variables and conditions.
Also a challenge…
The open nature of the app did prove intimidating to some students, who needed a little extra guidance and a creative nudge as to what projects to design. Taking students in smaller groups allowed basic and more complex commands to be explained, while not hindering the progress of more able students. Pairing students also proved an effective means of allowing collaborative learning. Finishing the projects and sharing them with friends and their teacher not only provided an incentive but also gave a great sense of pride to the children. Students continued working on their creations at home and, once finished, shared them with the online community.
Benefits for Teachers
Hopscotch proved to be an accessible teaching aid, ready to be picked up and taught with only a small amount of preparation. An impressive selection of tutorial videos, sample games and resources are available online, so even classroom teachers with little or no coding experience would feel comfortable teaching a coding lesson. With the students sharing their completed work at the end of lessons, this provided me with a comprehensive record of progress made.
Things to consider
Sign in is required to use Hopscotch, and the students created their own username and password allowing them to post and share their games with the app’s online community. While this was exciting for the students (and my own experience of the Hopscotch community has been nothing but positive), like any online community, care must be taken to monitor online postings, something teachers and parents must be aware of.
By the end of our lessons the students had thoroughly enjoyed using Hopscotch and were proud of the engaging and gripping projects they had created. Many of the children looked forward to continuing their projects at home and developing their skills even further, with many sharing more advanced projects with me weeks later. The children took what they learnt in lessons and applied it to new and more advanced ventures. This accessibility is the app’s biggest strength, suiting learners and teachers of all abilities and experience.
Next month sees the 2016 Hour of Code event and if you are looking for a way to get involved, Hopscotch has you covered! Dedicated Hour of Code lessons and resources can be found here and there are lots more HOC tutorials available on YouTube.
Here are a couple of examples of what your students could produce during just one hour of coding...