Top 5 tools for kids to learn coding

By | April 23, 2016

If you have read my previous blog which talks about Why Kids Should Learn To Code, you might be thinking what are the options available.

There are actually  many  software programs, websites and mobile applications that kids can use to get started with coding and programming.  Before selecting the one that best suits to you, you have to consider some factors.

Availability – Online / Offline

Some of the tools are only available online , so to use them you need continuous internet connection. Where as some are available offline, these offline tools can be downloaded once, set up on your computer (or mobile) and then you can use them without internet connection

Cost – Paid/ Free

Another factor is cost. The good news is that lot of programs and software for kids are actually free for use. In fact some are open source too.  Also if you are thinking that free means of inferior quality then you will be surprised to find that, that is not the case. In fact the top 5 that I have picked up below are all free.

Popularity

By Popularity I mean many things. It is obvious that when kids start learning something they need to get relevant material in the form of books, videos, tutorials. So availability of material for learning is must. Then, as kids go beyond basics they will have many questions as well as they might encounter errors. That is where they require support on that. Most of the tools have their online forums where users of that tool exchange their ideas and share experiences. How active these communities are for a particular tool is also important factor.

Couple of other factors also may be considered when you choose a tool and those are

  • Ease of learning – how it is easy to get started.
  • Development – how it helps to develop the multiple skills like  reasoning , logic.

With all these factors in mind I suggest following  tools as my top 5 picks.

  • Scratch
  • Code.org
  • App Inventor
  • Greenfoot
  • QB64

Lets see each of them in detail.

1] Scratch

What is it ?  : Scratch is visual programming language developed by MIT. It was first introduced in 2003. It can be used to create   interactive stories,  animations and games.

Type : Available both Online and Offline.
Cost : Free
Website : https://scratch.mit.edu/

Recommended Age : 8 onward

Scratch3

 

 

By the way what is Visual programming language? You need to understand it as there are many tools (mentioned here and not mentioned ) that use this visual programming language. According to Wikipedia , Visual programming language is any programming language that lets users create programs by manipulating program elements graphically rather than by specifying them textually. See a simple block of visual program from scratch

chrome 4/23/2016 , 3:45:16 PM Scratch - Google Search - Google Chrome

Getting started with Scratch : I suggest you start with online version first. Go the Scratch site and register you (or you kid). Email ID is required for registration. Once you register, you will get a mail to confirm your Email id.

The confirmation button will take you to the Scratch starter page. Initially you can try the “Learn how to make a project in Scratch” Then you can spend some time on “Try out starter projects” link.

Once you are comfortable either you can continue online or internet connectivity is an issue you can download offline and practice at your pace.

2] Code.org

Type : Available Online only
Cost : Free
Website : https://studio.code.org/

Recommended Age : 4 onward ( yes that’s right, 4!)

code_org

 

Code.org is a website  dedicated to expanding access to computer science by  Hadi Partovi in 2013.  On the landing page you will find 20 hours of  computer science fundamental courses separated across 4 courses. These are  for all ages starting form 4 up to 18. These are wonderful and easy to use animated learning courses that will give kids a easy start in the world of coding.

There are many more things here. Once you are done with 4 courses your kids can also try the hour of code sections like Artist, Classic Maze and so on.

For Kids 13+ there is an additional tool called Apps Lab which uses Visual programming language and / or JavaScript to develop simple apps (web based)

3] MIT App Inventor

Type : Available Online and Offline (Third party Attempts).
Cost : Free
Website : http://appinventor.mit.edu

Recommended Age : 12 onward

MIT App Inventor is a web based tool that was originally developed by Google and now maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

It uses visual programming , that is block based drag-and-drop interface similar to Scratch. You can use it to develop Android applications without writing any code.  In fact  you can create a basic, fully functional app within an hour or less.  Is not it interesting?

Again to start with you need to have a EMail ID. Go to App Inventor site and click on the big orange button “Create Apps!”

You can read about basics here.  There are meny resources available on internet on App Inventor.

Related Video  (As of this writing, this video is on the home page of MIT App Inventor.)

Also another related news ..

While many 12-year olds are playing video games or pulling pranks, this 12-year old came up with of a winning app. Arjun Kumar won 1st place in the K-8 division of the 2012 MIT App Inventor competition. Arjun is a seventh grade student from Velammal Vidyashram school in Surapet, Chennai, India.

 

4]  GreenFoot

Type : Available Offline
Cost : Free
Websitehttp://www.greenfoot.org/home

Recommended Age : 12 onward

Greenfoot is developed by Michael Kölling, Computing Education Group, University of Kent.  Greenfoot  project was awarded the “Duke’s Choice Award” in the category “Java Technology in Education”, and in 2010 it won the “Premier Award for Excellence in Engineering Education Course ware”

It is not block based like scratch or App Inventor, but still it is not really difficult to learn.

The main advantage I see in learning Greenfoot is it teaches you Java language (and concepts) in an easy to learn manner. In Greenfoot you create ‘actors’ which live in ‘worlds’ to build games, simulations, and other graphical programs.

See the image below of Greenfoot Editor.

greenfoot2

Greenfoot can be downloaded and installed on your PC. The installation is fairly straight forward.

5]  QB64

Type : Available Offline
Cost : Free
Website : http://www.qb64.net/

Recommended Age : 12 onward

Lastly I want to recommend QB64.  Essentially it is a modern version of the Basic programming language that allows programs created using Quick Basic or Qbasic to run on latest Windows versions. It is also available on Linux and Mac OSX.

It has many new features such as stereo sound, improved graphics and network/ internet  capabilities.  One of the reason I added this here is that Q Basic is taught in many schools as part of curriculum.  Many people/ students  try to download old versions of QBasic/ QuickBasic from internet which do not run properly on windows 2007 onward.

What Next ?

Once the kids are good with fundamental concepts of coding / programming they can go and learn some real programming languages too. There are hundreds of sites available where once can go and learn at no cost.  Many sites provide excellent video tutorials too.

I am mentioning some more tools either basic or advanced that are equally useful to get started or learn advanced computing concepts.

Alice– (Free / Offline) Alice is a 3D programming environment where one can easily create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video.
One can learn fundamental programming concepts and object-oriented programming concepts. It also uses block based visual programming but you can also learn Java as Alice has set of preference options that allows you  to view Java code behind.

Turtle Academy – (Free /Online)  This is implementation of old Logo language in visual format. This is free and this is online only tool.

HopScotch  – (Free / iPad) Uses block language to develop mini games, Drawings, patterns and even mini websites.

Code Combat – (Free /Online)  CodeCombat is a game that teaches programming to learners as young as 6. The courses are currently available in Python, Javascript, CoffeeScript, Clojure and LUA. whereas  Java coming soon!

Khan Academy – (Free /Online) – You can learn  HTML & CSS, JavaScript here.

Codecademy – (Free / Online) Some of the programming skills you can acquire using the courses here are  HTML & CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, PHP, Python, Ruby, SQL, Java

Google for Education – Learn python and some other technologies.

BlueJ – (Free / Offline) – BlueJ is similar to Greenfoot in that you will be able to get started with learning Java. But BlueJ is more suitable for intermediate level than Greenfoot.

FMSLogo – (Free/ offline) If you are looking for traditional logo like environment then this is for you.

There are as I said lot many tools available to learn coding basics, I would suggest to start with something  from the top 5 that I have mentioned. Please write to me in case you have any questions, I will be happy to help. Thanks.

Happy Coding !

 

 

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