Version Reviewed: 1.0.2
App Reviewed on: iPad 3
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I can remember the very early days of learning BASIC in the library of my grade school. It was taught by an elderly librarian who struggled with this concept, knowing only slightly more than her newcomer students as she copied what she read from her teacher's manual and the rest of us took turns typing in lines of code to move a curser around the screen, creating a crude, low resolution square. The effort that it took to produce this basic shape seemed like time not well spent as this was before computers were such a mainstay of life. This led me to believe at a very tender age that coding was a chore not to be bothered with.
Fast forward more than thirty years and I am happy to say that techniques for teaching coding have improved immensely. My first grade son, who is taught coding in school, has really taken to a new app, Robot School, that impressed me in many ways. I admire the loose narrative this app provides. It stars R-obbie the Robot, who after surviving his spaceship crash, needs to collect energy from batteries to have the fuel needed to make the trip back home.
With this in mind, each of the 45 levels provided includes an area that R-obbie needs to maneuver to reach a battery. Each of these boards looks as if it was built by LEGO, adding to a familiarity that I think is helpful in not overwhelming users. Children will need to command R-obbie to move forward and turn about, using more complicated notions in order to save valuable battery power as well as more specific tasks such as opening doors and other more pointed details.
I admire this app a great deal as it allows users the chance to drag and drop programming commands so children can spend their time focusing on the logic of how to move this robot about without having to memorize bits of code or struggling to avoid simple typos and other mistakes that will cause impasses and frustrations. With these commands laid out in front of users organized left to right, much like reading a book, the coding experience is eased for reluctant users who can truly visualize how these codes effect the movements of R-obbie. There is no time limit to these tasks, no score to beat, and no stars to collect, which I appreciate a great deal.
Wonderfully goal-oriented, children here have a perfect visual to focus their efforts as one can rotate fully the area R-obbie inhabits to get the personal view they need to complete the task at hand - an element I find quite helpful along with the ability to ask for a hint when needed. Robot School is not shy about providing the answer for users who are feeling stuck - quite helpful really, as being able to see the proper commands laid out correctly is a great resource and quite thought-provoking in and of itself.
Once a level is complete, one is then shown the code created as seen in Apple’s Swift program. My only note would to be able to see these lines of code highlighted on the same page one has been working on when completed as R-obbie performs these actions - much like how the dragged and dropped commands are highlighted during each of R-obbie’s movements to drive home how the Swift program truly relates to the commands used within.
It would be a cliché at this point to say that children will not realize they are learning coding while working with Robot School, but this app allows the user to focus their efforts on working within an exercise that requires critical thinking - which I personally find more palatable than other ways of coding that have been introduced to me as a student.
It is apps like these that make me wonder if my life would have turned out differently if better teaching tools had been offered at an early age. I feel fortunate for my boy to have a chance to work with Robot School and all of its many levels that start off simply and lead to the very complex. I am eager to see where this app and others like it will take him as he gets older, making the time he spends with Robot School time well spent.