Using desktop computers, digital tablets and even smartphones, thousands of students are expected to participate in Hour of Code sessions at schools across the country during Computer Science Education Week in early December.
The sessions are sponsored by Code.org, a nonprofit that boosts student participation in computer science programs at K-12 schools. Each year the organization helps educators set up Hour of Code sessions at their schools to introduce students to the basics of computer science and coding. This year’s Computer Science Education Week is December 5-11.
For students with no coding experience, an educational gaming app makes an ideal teaching tool. A good app teachers should consider using is “Run Marco!” from Allcancode. It introduces students, ages 6 to 12, to basic coding commands that move animated characters through fun and challenging world landscapes.
The app uses a visual programming language called Blockly, developed by Google and used in all official Hour of Code tutorials.
Coding operations covered in the game include:
- Building loop commands
- Initiating command sequences
- General problem solving
- Learning the iteration process
- Practicing conditional logic
Learning basic coding can be especially helpful to students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.
How it works
The app launches with a start page anchored by images of two intrepid explorers, Marco and Sophia, ready to embark on travel adventures.
First, students use a finger to tap the flag icon at the bottom of the screen and choose a language to display written instructions. Next, they tap the green arrow and select one of the explorers. Finally, they choose an adventure by tapping from three icons that appear on the next page.
Explorers appear in a colorful, richly painted landscape with an animated instruction booklet and a coding work area on the left side of the screen. Students are prompted to tap and drag coding command blocks into a work area to build a command code sequence.
First, students must determine the direction the explorer needs to move and the number of hops or steps needed along a pathway to get there. Placing specific command blocks in the right order in the work area makes the explorer hop forward or move to the right or left in proper sequence.
Along the way, explorers encounter obstacles that threaten their progress. Students insert command blocks to help the characters stay on their journey by having them hop over or step around obstacles like a broken bridge, missing steps or giant boulders.
In addition to a highly visual interface, the game includes interactive features to keep students engaged. The most helpful are:
- Colorful animation and graphics
- Multiple challenge levels
- Music and sound effects
- Self-guided tutorials
- Travel hints
Those who prefer to play the game online via a desktop computer can check out the free web version of the program on the Allcancode website.
Content in the “Run Marco!” app by Allcancode is all-inclusive and is compatible with most smartphones and digital tablets. Once it’s been downloaded to a device, all functions and features, including animation, guide prompts, music and sound effects, will work without an internet connection.
There are no add-on purchases, and registration is not required for individual play. However, online registration is required when teachers use the program in a formal Hour of Code session in their classrooms. Registration details are on the Code.org website.
The “Run Marco!” app is free. It can be downloaded from iTunes and is compatible with iPad tablets running iOS version 9.0 or later. It’s also available on Google Play and is compatible with digital tablets running the Android operating system 4.4 or later. Kindle Fire users can find the app on the Amazon Appstore, and Chrome tablet users can find it at the Chrome Webstore.