Guest Post: Raising a Generation of Creators not Consumers – Code stories and games for FREE

“Creativity is a step beyond imagination: it is putting your imagination to work.” – Sir Ken Robinson

According to a 2017 Statista study, in the UK children ages 3 and 4 play games an average of 5.9 hours per week. For older children (ages 12-15) the number is even higher, averaging 12.2 hours per week. Computer/mobile/video games can be a fun source of entertainment. However, many parents and educators are concerned with how much digital media their kids consume.

The society of tomorrow demands problems solvers, innovators, and critical thinkers. In her research-based book, Coding as a Playground Dr. Marina Umaschi Bers explains: “In today’s world, those who can produce digital technologies will do better than those who can only consume them. Those who can innovate and problem solve will create the democracies of tomorrow, ready to take on the challenges of a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious, complex global world.” This thought begs the question, in the age of consumption overload, how can we help our kids become creators?

codeSpark Academy is a playful environment that was developed based on research from Dr. Bers and others and Harvard and MIT in the US. Pupils in KS1 and KS2 learn the ABCs of coding and apply their skills through puzzles, mini-games, and creating their own stories and games. The visually appealing environment features lovable characters that engage students. The blocks that kids use to code are word-free, making it great for pre/early-readers and language learners. Within the program there are different types of activities kids can learn with including open-ended programming environment and guided puzzles.

Game Maker

What if instead of spending 6+ hours per week playing games, kids spent that time making their own games, developing their creativity, and creation skills? With codeSpark, kids can, as Bers described, “produce digital technologies” through Sir Robinson’s idea of “putting your imagination to work.” The Game Maker environment provides kids an open sandbox with which they can add objects and characters, code them, and share their game with the world.

In class, KS1 and KS2 pupils can learn about algorithms, debugging, variables, and more as they create their own games. Kids can also share their games with friends who in turn can remix and modify their own versions of the original. Recently, a seven year-old’s program shot to the top charts in our Game Maker Community because he figured out a way to code blocks that created a working elevator within his game. He was ecstatic to learn that his game was played by children around the world over 15,000 times and was remixed by 2,000 other kids who wanted to figure out how his code worked.

 

 

 

For many kids, creating games is their favourite form of self-expression and creativity. Other kids prefer telling stories, which is an additional feature available in codeSpark.

Create Stories

“It’s not what you know about the computer that’s important, but your ability to do things with it. By studying French in an academic setting, you get to know a lot about it, but typically, you can’t express yourself well or have an interesting conversation with it.” – Seymour Papert

In New York City, teachers are remixing classic tales using codeSpark’s Create Stories mode. For their English Language lessons, students plan out a variation of one of Aesop’s Fables and use codeSpark to program an animated scene acting it out. For example, one teacher shared a story from her class where after seeing that their porridge had been eaten and the beds were broken, the Three Bears use their Alexa on their Amazon Echo device to order more porridge and a new bed.

       

In New York City, teachers are remixing classic tales using codeSpark’s Create Stories mode. For their English Language lessons, students plan out a variation of one of Aesop’s Fables and use codeSpark to program an animated scene acting it out. For example, one teacher shared a story from her class where after seeing that their porridge had been eaten and the beds were broken, the Three Bears use their Alexa on their Amazon Echo device to order more porridge and a new bed.

 

 

Creating stories has phenomenal and immediate ties to English lessons. Students can retell stories, demonstrate their understanding of an idea or book, or present their side of a debate, and more. Using codeSpark as an expressive tool not only strengthens spoken, reading, and writing language skills, it also prepares pupils to express themselves in what many call the “new literacy” or the “21st Century Language” of code.

Puzzles

Creating games and stories with code is a wonderfully creative way to teaching computing concepts to young kids. However, many teachers are still insecure in their abilities to teach the concepts considering they likely have very limited training in the subject.

Sometimes computing education, especially at the lower levels, feels similar to Katherine Johnson, one of NASA’s Hidden Figures during the Space Race, who said:

“Everything was so new – the whole idea of going into space was new and daring. There were no textbooks, so we had to write them.”

Recognizing the scaffolding and support teachers need, codeSpark also has a Puzzles section where kids work their way through guided lessons. Concepts like sequencing, loops, events, and conditionals are broken up into themed chapters where kids program characters to reach specific goals. Being self-guided, these sections allow teachers to learn along with their students instead of feeling the pressure to guide them as an expert in computing. Additionally, the teacher dashboard hosts a full curriculum (25 lessons) packed with lesson aids, unplugged activities, and printables. Sign up for a FREE teacher account and checkout the dashboard to learn more.

Make it Happen in Your Classroom

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” – Alan Turing

Whether your students are creating stories and games or learning the basics with puzzles, bringing meaning computing education to young children is an ambitious endeavour for any teacher. codeSpark Academy is made to be easy to use for you and your pupils. It may be intimidating, but raising a generation of creators instead of consumers is worth the effort!

How much is codeSpark Academy?  codeSpark Academy is 100% FREE for verified teachers, librarians and non-profit organizations.

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