I got an email this morning from code.org, unveiling their new Hour of Code tutorial: making snowflakes with Elsa and Anna of Arendelle! I was thrilled to see that this event has gained enough traction for Disney to take notice and to use their characters’ outrageous popularity to further something so important (…as opposed to what Mattel’s been up to). I dove right in to testing it!
Overall, I think it’s a great idea and pretty well designed. I thought it made loops very comprehensible; the jump to nesting them was perhaps sudden but certainly not as scary as it was in my early Java days. I really appreciated being able to speed up the animation and to stop the results as soon as you realize they’re wrong. I’m also pleased to see a totally non-violent introductory tutorial, something to create that doesn’t involve breaking/shooting/killing/blowing up/destroying/fighting anything at all (last year’s favorites included Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds themes, which are both fairly innocuous but still about one group fighting another). It’s showing participants that not only is programming something they can do, but that it has uses other than games. I’m totally into that.
One thing I wonder about is the age of prospective participants. Based on watching students’ conversations, observing Halloween costumes, and anecdotes from my sister the professional Elsa impersonator (no, really), it’s looking to me like most of the kids who are still really into it are too young to have learned anything about the measure of angles. Will they get discouraged and be put off of things that look like block-based coding? Will they figure it out through trial and error and authentically learn both computing and geometric concepts? Will they just use brute force to try all the possibilities from the drop-down lists? When I worked with middle school students this summer on drawing parallelograms in Scratch, there was a lot of confusion about “turn __ degrees” versus the known interior angles of the shapes, but maybe that won’t be an issue for kids who haven’t yet learned anything else to get mixed up about. Anyone else who’s tried this (particularly with actual kids), I’d love to hear your thoughts!