April 20, 2015

App Uses Puzzles to Introduce Young Learners to Computer Coding

By Rob Klindt, Contributing Writer | Literacy Resources

By the time they reach kindergarten or first grade, many children already have played video games on a computer, digital tablet or their parents’ smartphones.

But what do they know about the technology that makes those games work? Most likely, they don’t know much. But that’s changing as many schools across the country scramble to add computer coding to their curriculums to meet the anticipated demand for workers trained in computer coding.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the tech industry will be trying to fill an estimated 1.4 million computer jobs by 2020, and many of those jobs will require coding skills. Large industries where workers with coding skills are frequently needed include business, government, healthcare and manufacturing.

Logo for The Foos: Code Hour, an app that teaches children the basics of computer programmingA good educational app to introduce young learners to the concept of computer coding is “The Foos: Code Hour” by codeSpark. The app can be used with most smartphones and digital tablets in the classroom or on the go.

Topics covered

Designed for children from kindergarten through third grade, the app is aligned with the popular Code.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to boosting student participation in computer science programs at K-12 schools nationwide. The organization helps educators set up “Hour of Code” sessions to introduce students in all grade levels to the basics of computer science and programming.

Curriculum in “The Foos: Code Hour” app is based on research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Exploring Computer Science program at the University of California-Los Angeles. It is aligned with most state educational standards. The app exposes students to various basic learning concepts and coding skills, including:

  • Algorithms
  • Critical thinking
  • Loops
  • Problem recognition
  • Sequencing

How it works

Using a complete visual interface, the app uses gaming technology to guide youngsters through a series of puzzles where they can make characters move, jump, dance or run across the screen.

At the heart of the program is a family of fun animated characters called “The Foos.” Youngsters can “program” these characters to move in specific ways by following prompts to swipe, tap or drag onscreen tools.

There are 24 playing levels of puzzles. Each puzzle is self-paced and there is no time limit, though players cannot move to a new puzzle until the previous one is finished.

The app is inspired by visual programming languages like Scratch from MIT and includes numerous features to keep students engaged and guide them through each play level. Among the features are:

  • Automatic scorekeeping
  • Interactive navigation tools
  • Lively music and audio prompts
  • Playing level selection
  • Rich and colorful graphics

There are also three separate “toy box” areas set aside for creative play with no scorekeeping. While the “hands-on” features of the app will likely keep most students engaged, it’s particularly good for kinesthetic learners who thrive on movement and tactile activities while learning.

What’s included

Content in “The Foos: Code Hour” app is all-inclusive. Once it’s been downloaded to a device, all functions including games, puzzles, graphics and sound effects will work without an Internet connection. There are no advertisements or in-app purchases.

Social media links to Facebook and Twitter are included to share scores with teachers, parents or classmates. An Internet connection is needed to do that.

Download details

The “The Foos: Code Hour” app is free. It can be downloaded through Google Play and the Amazon Appstore. It’s compatible with smartphones and tablets running the Android operating system 2.3 or later. The app is also available on iTunes and is compatible with iPhones and iPad tablets running iOS version 6.0 or later. It also can be played using a desktop Web browser by downloading a free “unity” player at http://thefoos.com/; Windows and Mac OS versions of the player can be downloaded.

Rob Klindt’s “App Reviews” combine his passion for writing with an ever-growing interest in educational technology. His simple, straightforward approach to reviewing educational apps help educators and parents leverage new tools for students in and out of the classroom.

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