I'm guessing you're a 21st century forward thinking parent. You've heard about Hour of Code, and you want to encourage your child to code. You know that coding fosters creativity, problem solving and innovation. You've read why Apple believes coding should be required in every public school?
You understand the why and the what. You just need help with the how?
I think I know how you feel.
Back in late 2016, I was in the same place.
I had heard about Hour of Code through an Apple press release. Apple Retail was offering free one-hour coding classes in their store. I immediately tried to sign up, but all the spots had already been filled.
So I searched on Google and found tynker.com. The site looked interesting, but I wasn't ready to sign up for a paid account. However, I did have Rizwan create a free account and watched him dip his toes into block programming.
A few weeks later Black Friday hit, along with a Tynker deal. They were offering $72 for an annual pass to Tynker. The regular price is $96 a year, and since I was interested in coding classes, I signed Rizwan up.
Tynker is an educational programming platform that teaches children how to code. Instead of typing the source code, children drag blocks of code and snap them together in the right sequence. Tynker's About Us page says their goal is to have "children become active creators of technology, not just passive users. We believe that the ability to code allows children to make their ideas a reality. Tynker's mission is to provide every child with solid foundations in Computer Science, programming, and critical thinking skills to prepare them to become better architects of their future world".
This is a key point. Tynker focuses on engaging your child so they are learning and having fun at the same time. Over time, they'll learn how to create games like arcade shooter games.
Tynker's self-paced lessons, with helpful hints if your child gets stucks, (they will) enable your child to play Tynker without too much adult help. The games are fun, there is plenty of variety, and there is plenty of emphasis on letting your child create.
Think of it as lego on a computer, where your child follows instructions to get started, build momentum and create something, but once you have the necessary concepts down, you're free to create in every possible way.
You can use your parent account to monitor your kid's progress including what sessions they have completed, what concepts they've learned and admire the projects they've created. As a parent, its very easy to track your kid's progress on Tynker, and more importantly, it's very safe.
Over the course of the year, Rizwan's completed 63 sessions, 11 concepts, and 4 projects. The 11 concepts Rizwan had started learning to code include:
When I asked Rizwan about Tynker, he asked me if I was referring to the iPad App or the computer version. When I asked what the difference was, he responded in the typical way tweens do, by pointing out that there was a significant difference, with the computer version having much more options. He immediately took me to Code Commander, which is right up his ally.
When Rizwan plays with his toys, his bed is covered with over fifty different action figures and toys in the midst of a battle. Code commanders allow him to do the same thing digitally, and as he describes "is a cool way to code".
The mission in Code Commander is preparing your army for battle. You lead your army of avatars and learn how to fight goblins, skeletons, and other monsters. As you progress through the twenty levels, you learn more code on how to attack the enemy. Through this process of controlling an army, you learn to program four different characters by using the following blocks:
Level 17 was particularly tough. In this level, you code four different heroes (hero, knight, mage & archer) to attack a Goblin city. First, you have to program your archers to sneak up on the Goblin outposts and attack. After you've taken out the archers, you program your knight and hero to navigate the goblin fortress and attack the goblins and skeletons. It took over half a dozen attempts before Rizwan figured out how to defeat this level.
Another cool feature is "Battle with Friends", where the code your kid just used for the level is matched up against other coders across the world. It's fun to see who wins these battles.
One of the features of Tynker that we haven't tried out yet is Minecraft modding. Like most kids, Rizwan is obsessed with Minecraft, and so I was curious to have Rizwan try out the Minecraft modding options in Tynker. Kids have access to Minecraft coding courses, a private server, mod designers, and fun mini-games. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to connect Minecraft and Tynker. From what I remember, back in late 2016, I had to buy a particular copy of Minecraft for the Mac to make it work with Tynker. Given that the kids already had Minecraft on their iPads and that I wasn't excited about my kids playing Minecraft online (with others), I never followed through. If you have personalized Minecraft using Tynker, please leave a comment below!
Code Commander probably appeals more towards boys with its goblins and wizards, but there are plenty of games and activities targeted more towards girls. While I can't tell you Khadija's response (she uses code.org), all these games look entertaining and educational.
Barbie Pet Vet - A busy day at the Pet Vet leads to fun as you and Barbie help a variety of pets through their very first checkups. From guiding pets into the Examination Room to diagnosing their sniffles, boo-boos, and itches, you’ll find every puzzle has a solution to make the pets feel better than ever!
Puppy Adventure - Pixel the puppy was enjoying a nice day out with his family, but they forgot to put him in the car and left without him! Can you program Pixel to find his way home? In each puzzle, you'll navigate Pixel to avoid obstacles so he can get back home to his family.
Candy Quest - Design your own candy troll character and go on a multi-level quest for candy to eventually help your character find its way home. You'll solve coding puzzles to navigate your character through the human world, while avoiding obstacles and collecting gumdrops and mints.
While we didn't end up renewing Rizwan's annual Tynker account, we were pleased with Rizwan's progress in learning to code. He loved Code Commander but unfortunately ended up replaying the same games, instead of exploring other levels. There were over 69 concepts that he never even started, and he only got past beginner stage for four concepts. Considering I'd paid over $80 for a subscription, I wish I had seen more progress. While I appreciate the personalized nature of Tynker, I would like to see a bit more structure where the program pushes the child to move forward, while also giving them time to play. Tynker does have what they call the Learning Path, but I'd like to see more ways to encourage the child to get on the path. For now, I've decided to explore other educational coding platforms, but I wouldn't be surprised if, down the road, we choose to commit to a longer-term Tynker subscription.
With over 16 years of Operations Leadership at Apple, Iftikhar has had pivotal roles in launching the iPod, iPhone, iPad & Apple Watch. In late 2017, he launched k12toSTEMCareer.com with the goal of becoming a better parent to his children, Rizwan and Khadija. Today, over 1214 people follow Iftikhar's writings around STEM & Parenting. Read Iftikhar's personal story about his journey from an Introvert to a Director at Apple.
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