Games Helping Kids Learn to Code
It’s no secret that education has changed with the times. In the arts specifically, we have seen increased access to digital resources at younger and younger ages, and as everyday technology has become more advanced, our kids have begun to learn how to interact with and manipulate that technology. With schools now offering basic coding classes as early as middle school, education has experienced a jump in not only what it is teaching, but how.
One technique that has made the concepts of coding more accessible in early stages of education is the introduction of gamification. Gamification utilizes a few key principles to help keep students engaged, build their confidence in a particular skill, and help them retain information better. It is especially poised to make high-level concepts like coding more accessible as it thrives on simplicity and accessibility.
If you’ve ever accidentally hit one of the F-keys on your keyboard and had that sidebar window pop out that shows all of the HTML coding for the webpage, you probably understand that coding does not look simple in the wild. So how can this be introduced to children as early as kindergarten? In the same way that Assassin’s Creed’s story mode allows you to walk through the time periods that the game’s main character is living in: simplification and immersion. The concepts behind coding can be simplified in a number of ways that allow them to be taught through a multitude of games, while actual coding can be introduced later.
The brilliance of gamification is that it makes subjects that are highly complex or detailed, far more simple and accessible. This type of engagement and self-discovery can be especially important for students such as middle and early high school girls, whose STEM education often falters at these ages. The gamification of learning is particularly familiar to those in early education, an area that has seen its share of coding-influenced learning.
Games that Teach Coding
If you look for a list of games that teach coding, you will notice that most of them are broken into different age ranges, some starting as early as kindergarten. Although it is not unusual to see a small child playing with their parent’s phone, this seems like a far cry from building an understanding of computer code. Children in kindergarten may not be ready for HTML basics, but there are plenty of games that enhance early development milestones while teaching skills necessary for coding later in their education.
Beebot, for example, is a kid-friendly robot that runs around on the floor. Where it moves and how it moves is based on the various directions and actions that children tell it to take, via the buttons on its back. In this way, it introduces children to the concept of commands, command input, and stringing together those commands to create new actions.
As we move up through age groups, we often find the popular video game Minecraft in on the list of middle school-appropriate games that teach coding. This may seem like an odd choice, as a casual observer will see the game as a blocks-style building game, but that system goes much deeper. Players gather materials to create blocks, then join blocks together to create interactive systems. This is an excellent visual and interactive way to create an understanding of coding, which also functions in terms of blocks, elements, and unifying functions. In this age group there are also games that focus more heavily on the computer systems and introduce the concepts of actual coding, which we see more of in high school-level appropriate games.
Coding games for high school students focus directly on actual coding skills, and having integrated coding-style games involved in early learning can help support the transition into writing actual code. One of the great payoffs at this level is that games like Codewars and DevKit allow students to see the effects of their coding in real-time. With Codewars, students work on live code; with DevKit, they are able to design, build, and explore their own apps and programs. By giving students at this formative age the ability to explore the depth and power of their skills, they are learning confidence and building skills that are increasingly applicable to potentially well-paying careers and vocations as they move into college and choose their career paths.
Teaching More Than How to Code
The reason so many of these games exist and do so well is because they are teaching skills that are important to early development. Games for kindergarteners often focus on physical manipulation, helping the child to build important hand-eye coordination. The simple, physically engaging games allow for interaction that builds reasoning, language skills, and provides the basic skills needed to move on to more advanced topics. Even the simplest, low tech versions of these games help enhance understanding of language (direction words), aid in literacy (reading, understanding, and manipulating commands), and necessary reasoning skills.
One of the great things about these games is that they come in such a variety of genres, and there are many that are available for free to educators. There are puzzle games, robot command games, fighting games, adventure games, all of which focus around building a viable vocabulary and skillset that can be transferred to coding. This variety also makes an area of STEM learning very accessible to young learners. By giving students the chance to spend time with STEM subjects, we can let them discover their own aptitudes and passions.
One of the core elements of gamifying education is that the reward received when a task is completed feeds back into continuing to learn, creating a cycle that reinforces the desire to continue education. As students build their knowledge, they are also building confidence in their ability to develop ideas and extrapolate solutions to new situations based on prior experiences. Students who are entering high school and college have the chance to feel confident in exploring how they can effectively build activities and see results in the real world. This can help them move forward with greater clarity, and better prepare to enter the workforce in their area of choice.