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Edu-Tech Oct-Dec-2018

Tips to Choose a Good Block-based Coding Platform for Kids

Soorya Menon
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The world as we all know is becoming increasingly digitised. In keeping with this trend, computer science as a subject has been introduced at a very early stage. Acquiring and mastering computational thinking skills are vital to surviving in this technology-driven era.  

Computational thinking can be broadly defined as an approach to solving complex problems by breaking them down into smaller parts (decomposition), observing the underlying patterns (pattern-recognition), and then generalising the solution (abstraction) and implementing it in a step-by-step manner (algorithms). Computational thinking is a problem-solving methodology that can be automated and transferred and applied across subjects. Many schools in India introduce Scratch, a block-based programming language which focuses on teaching various computational thinking concepts to students, as early as Grade 3. Since the release of Scratch in 2013, a lot of research has been going on in the domain of computational thinking.

Block-based coding to develop computational thinking

Researchers and educators across the globe have tried various online and offline avenues and activities to teach computational thinking. Block-based coding has been found to be one of the most widely used methodologies to teach computational thinking to students due to its easy accessibility and scalability. At present, multiple block-based coding platforms are available for educators and students.

This brings us to our next big question- ‘What constitutes a good block-based coding platform?’

What parameters can we use to evaluate the numerous block-based coding platforms available to us and decide which one is better than the other? At a very basic level, it is sufficient to say that the platform that most effectively equips the learners with computational thinking skills is the best one. So, basically, we are looking for effective enhancement of computational thinking skills.

Let us now decipher the essence of what ‘effective enhancement of computational thinking skills’  entails.

Contextual  

It is important that learning revolves around a context which the students are able to relate to and understand as it would facilitate them to apply their problem-solving skills in real-life situations. The different computational thinking concepts are loops, conditionals, parallel execution, sequencing etc.  

For instance, to teach the concept of conditionals (which involves the use of statements like ‘if-else’ for selective execution of certain events depending on certain conditions), one can use the example of exam grades, such as a students gets an ‘A’ grade IF he/she scores more than x% marks, ELSE he/she gets a ‘B’ grade. Such examples allow students to relate the concept and its applications.

Motivation through gamification

Another important parameter to consider while choosing a block-based coding platform is student motivation. The development of computational thinking skills is a gradual process and takes place through deliberate practice. Therefore, it is imperative for a good block-based coding platform to have an intrinsic characteristic that motivates learners to revisit the platform for additional practice sessions. Gamification of learning is an interesting approach to attain this particular objective. For example, Code Monkey, a popular block-based online coding game, progresses through various stages by increasing its level of complexity and difficulty, thereby ensuring that the experience is both challenging and exciting for students.

Cross-curriculum integration

Even though computer science activities are typically seen as a way to teach computational thinking, research has shown that subjects such as maths and science also provide students with ample opportunities to learn computational thinking. However, maths and science teachers are rarely able to bring out this connection explicitly in the classroom. Hence, it becomes important to integrate the learning of computational thinking with other subjects. Unfortunately, none of the existing platforms seems to be providing this integration opportunity.

Tangible outcome

These platforms facilitate students to create something of their own, be it a game or developing an animation. Having a tangible outcome of the learning activity not only enhances student motivation but also provides scope for learners to exercise their creativity. Currently, studio.code.org provides this opportunity by enabling students to create their own multimedia enriched stories and games. It also allows students to further share their creations with peers, parents and teachers, thereby increasing awareness of these mediums and popularising them as social tools having educational benefits.

Learning analytics

With data analytics entering almost every domain of our life, it is only fair to expect a block-based coding platform to analyse student activity and generate insights to help students improve their performance, and assist teachers and parents to monitor and support them in the learning process.

Support system

Learning a new topic is never easy and learners often face various road-blocks which they might not be able to overcome on their own. Such instances, if unchecked, can cause frustration and might lead to an aversion towards the topic. Computational thinking is no different, and therefore, a good block-based coding platform should provide a robust support system for resolving student queries and doubts.

We have analysed that through various platforms provide one or more of the above-mentioned six features, there is no single platform which does a good job of meeting all the above-mentioned parameters. This motivated us to design a new block-based coding platform- KODA.

KODA a Next Education initiative

KODA is a game-designing platform where students design their own games using block-based coding. In the process of designing these games, they learn various key concepts across domains such as STEM topics, computational thinking concepts, creativity and logical thinking. In addition to providing a platform for block-based coding, KODA also comprises various age-appropriate and relatable learning modules and assessments. The final outcome of KODA is a game designed by the user.  This provides a tangible outcome to the learning activity, and in addition, keeps students motivated during the process. Moreover, KODA is also integrated with an analytics engine on the back end which provides insights to students and educators about a child’s learning path. A support system is also being designed to help students resolve their doubts and queries.

We believe that with its holistic approach, KODA will lead the way for the next generation of block-based coding platforms.

Contact the author if you want your student to enjoy a free one-month subscription of the platform.

Email at: tarung@nexteducation.in

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Soorya Menon
Soorya Menon

Soorya Menon has over thirteen years of experience in English language teaching and curriculum designing for the K-12 sector. She has completed her PhD in English Language Education from the English and Foreign Languages University. Currently, she is researching on the impact of digital education in the K-12 sector in India.

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