Free coding resources to keep your gears oiled

May 20, 2018

Summer is just around the corner!  Time to enjoy some Scottish… sunshine.  Still, on those cloudy or rainy days, it can be great to get creative – perhaps coding something awesome.

Many parents often ask how they can support their child’s coding skills at home between Wacky Bots sessions.  Like anything not done for a while, one can get rusty and take a few tries to get back in gear.  So, here are some tips on (mostly free) tools that your child could use to keep their coding skills sharp and perhaps even learn something new!  However, it is important to note that it is likely that your child will require some initial support in navigating these tools.

  • ScratchJr

ScratchJr – often called Scratch Junior – is a fantastic coding software aimed at children aged five to seven years.  However, this age range is simply a guide and anyone new to coding can gain significant value from ScratchJr.  Using this, children can create their own stories and games!  It is ideal for children who have recently started using Lego Wedo and perhaps, those who are secure in their understanding of coding using the Kibo robot.

It can be downloaded from app stores on Apple, Android and Amazon tablets.  It can also be used online on a desktop using a Chrome browser. Information on ScratchJr is available at www.scratchjr.org.  For help getting started, there is a “Learn” tab with information on the basics.

  • Hopscotch

Hopscotch appears to be intended as a go-between from ScratchJr to Scratch.  It is aimed at children aged eight years and up who are interested in creating their own apps and games.  Unfortunately, it only appears to work on Apple tablet.  Also, children with limited coding experience will need significant support getting started.  It is ideal for children are confident in their use of the LEGO Wedo software, having completed at least twelve hours of guided instruction.

For more information about Hopscotch, you may visit www.gethopscotch.com.  There is an “Educators” link on the page to lesson plans.  However, some children will require significant support to follow the plans independently.   You don’t have to use the lesson plans though as the app is quite self-explanatory for children who are comfortable working independently.

  • Scratch

Scratch is one of those versatile platforms whose importance cannot be overstated.  It is aimed at anyone from age nine up.  Using Scratch, one can create games, stories, animations, art, music and more!  However, it only works on desktops at the moment.  Good news though:  a new version – Scratch 3.0 – will be released in August 2018 and it will work on tablets!

If you’d like to explore the magic of Scratch, just visit www.scratch.mit.edu.  There, you will find projects made by users all over the world.  Careful though – it’s easy to get carried away playing other people’s games and watching their movies!  While it is possible to use Scratch entirely online, I’d recommend that you download the offline version of Scratch for your child to work on.  This helps focus.  Furthermore, once an account has been created online, projects can always be shared on the Scratch website at a later date.   The link to download the offline editor is at the bottom of the page.  For help getting started, just follow the “For Parents” link at the bottom of the page.

Lastly on Scratch, the upcoming iteration, Scratch 3.0, will allow anyone to program Lego Wedo and Mindstorms robots (and several other robots) using the software, without the need for any plugins!  Scratch has just got even better : )

  • Kodable

Kodable is a popular tool aimed at children aged four to ten years old.  It can be used online on a desktop or on an Apple tablet. Information on Kodable is available at www.kodable.com.  There is a free version of Kodable and a highly affordable paid version that opens the door to immense flexibility in creating games, stories, animations and more. For help getting started, there is a “Parents” tab at the top of the page.

  • Gamestar Mechanic

While not strictly a coding platform, I thought I’d include Gamestar Mechanic here because many young coders are keen to become game designers – my son is.  This online-only platform teaches the basic concepts of game design from planning, aesthetics, and all the way to the business perspective.    Children play lots, and I mean lots, of games while using this platform. Therefore, this can make us believe they are just playing games for hours.  However, these games all teach valuable lessons in game design and there are opportunities to modify games, and create their very own games!

For more about Gamestar Mechanic, visit www.gamestarmechanic.com.   There are free plans, paid plans, and even an online course for the keen game designer.

I hope you have found this guide useful.  For any questions on any of these tools, feel free to drop me a note at nike@wackybots.co.uk

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A Robotic PlaygroundPlayful Coding with Kibo