If you follow tech trends in education you probably have the sense that teaching children to code is kind of having a moment right now.
Quest-based video game makers like Gamestar Mechanics have started to find their place among other subjects in teachers’ lesson plans. Non-profits like Code.org are pushing to get hundreds of millions of kids, especially girls, to get comfy with computer science, even enlisting President Obama.
Conferences, training camps and studies are touting the potential of a generation of kids that feels as comfortable with a command line as they do with an iPad.
But is this an educational fad or actually an important skill for our children to have in their backpocket?
Despite all the talk, data from the Bureau of Labor shows less than 3-percent of college students graduate with computer science degrees, and just 26 states allow computer science courses to count toward a high school diploma.
Does coding class belong next to reading, history and social studies in school?
Pasadena, CA-based developer codeSpark thinks so, as does co.lab, the startup accelerator that recently added the company to its latest cohort of firms, in part, because of the promise of their new coding game for kids — The Foos.
This partnership brings a $50,000 stipend, mentorship and networking opportunities and access to their ed tech community.
In a recent Huffington Post blog, codeSpark CEO and co-founder Grant Hosford wrote that by becoming more familiar with the basic concepts of coding, kids can become the creators of technology instead of just consumers. In a recent conversation with Gamesandlearning.org, Hosford said, “in an increasingly digital world, the odds that a problem can be solved more effectively by leveraging technology go up every day.”
But to help kids build the confidence to experiment and create with digital tools, Hosford and codeSpark want to be a part of a growing community that offers these opportunities.
The Foos is codeSpark’s first effort, a coding game aimed at kids in K-6 grade.
Players navigate their avatars through levels filled with increasingly challenging obstacles and puzzles, not with a keyboard or joystick, but by dragging command icons into a sequence that mimics basic coding principles like problem recognition, algorithms and looping.
Drag and drop. Click the character. Move and jump.
The characters themselves are mostly gender-ambiguous creations that must recover lost items scattered by The Glitch, an accident-prone, trouble-making creature who resembles a cross-eyed cookie monster with bull horns. Green police officers retrieve their precious sprinkled donuts, magenta construction workers build boxes to reach their trusty tools, and black ninjas deploy throwing stars to collect jewels and crack open boxes.
Hosford recently spoke with us about why kids need to be creators, why games like The Foos can play a role in this “new literacy,” and why it’s simply a prelude to a much bigger project called Foo Studio. Listen to the interview here:
The following is a transcript of a couple of the highlights from the conversation.
Gamesandlearning.org: You recently wrote … about how teaching kids to code is kind of having a moment right now so-to-speak. Parents and teachers are often skeptical how relevant coding and computer science education will be down the road, but you made the point that introducing kids to programming at a really early age not only helps their overall learning but transforms them from technology consumers to technology creators. Why is that important?
Grant Hosford: One of the things that’s negative about the current conversation, in some contexts, is the either/or approach. That somehow we’re trading outside time for screen time, or playing with blocks for playing with digital tools.
To me, good digital tools in games and educational content is just another tool in a parent and teacher’s toolbox and you’re giving kids more tools in their problem solving toolbox when they approach something. It very well may be that the best problem to a solution is analog, but you can only get there properly if you’re also thinking in digital. And in an increasingly digital and connected world the odds that a problem can be solved more effectively by leveraging technology go up everyday.
Gamesandlearning.org: So for a skeptical parent, teacher or guardian, what’s a real world example of how coding can help make a technology consumer into a creator?
Grant Hosford: There’s two elements to that question. One is: do these skills have application in areas outside of digital creation? And they do. For example: if you improve your ability to sequence, to understand the order of operations of things — this, then that, then this — that’s very much a computer science concept, but improvement in that area leads to direct improvement in reading comprehension scores. Because reading a story, remembering that story is the key. The other part is this: let’s say I love to play video games. That’s great. Being a good player provides a set of skills that are interesting such as dexterity, problem solving, multitasking, using short-term or working memory…
Gamesandlearning.org: Hand-eye coordination…
Grant Hosford: Right. But that’s kind of it. And if you suddenly start to think about being a game maker yourself, now, all of a sudden you have to change your perspective from, “This is what I like doing as a player and these are the games I like to play,” to “What kind of game can I build that other people would like to play?” So, at a minimum, there is a process of becoming more empathetic to your intended audience that I think is super valuable for almost any kind of kid in any kind of endeavor.
Given how much of our economy is consumer driven, the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and think about what they would want to do or want to buy is valuable. In terms of life interactions, thinking about how another person is both the same and/or different than you, and how that might affect what you want to do or make is super valuable.