The other day I ended up on Code Studio, at code.org. This relatively new community provides online Computer Science learning for ages 4-18. The organization is exploring which large-scale classroom interventions might encourage girls to pursue STEM related studies.
The organization is sponsored by large technology companies, and some of the activities are branded.
Hmmmm. Is branding necessary?
“…Code.org® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra…”
I was never a gamer, but I thought it would be good to see what is going on with Code Studio. I tried Course 1, for ages 4-6. I picked this age because I’m preparing to execute a case study for iXMessage for girls this same age. Here’s how it went.
I am now on the fifth straight page of matching image blocks to a full picture. There are three image blocks, and you have to drag each block over to the matching spot in the full picture. Matching the images gets slightly harder as you go through these puzzles, then gets easier. So in 9 tries, assuming no repeats, success.
On the eighth set, I purposely put the blocks in the wrong order and clicked next. The application reordered them for me, then played a “ta-da” sound as if I got them correct. So I get a ta’da’ when I get it right, or wrong, and other times I get the “ta-da” when I click next.
Oh no, the dashboard is showing that I’m not even half way through this course.
For the next puzzle, I didn’t move anything and just clicked the next button. Yikes! A really ominous female voice thundered “Arrange the blocks to form the image”. I can think of 10 ways to make that user experience not scare kids.
Hold on, a new challenge.
The images are now magnetic, so to speak. I have to separate them, then try to drag them to the main staging area. There is also a force field for a certain distance. If I drag within a certain space of another block, they click together and I have to stop to separate them out before dragging them to the full picture.
All of the above is supposed to teach drag and drop. Are we sure the kids didn’t get the drag and drop concept 7 screens ago?
Puzzle 11 was odd. The placement completely relied on color first, then order, but not shape exactly. The last piece changed it’s size automatically before the ta’da’.
Ok, moving onto the next activity.
Cool, there is a 5 year old girl giving me instructions, fun and friendly. This activity is called Maze. There is a matrix, with a bird sitting in a block. You have to move the bird to a destination by picking a set of arrows – up, down, left, right. This activity has more sound queues, it’s fun, and the characters change expressions. It has a bomb blowing up visual and sound queue when the bird moves to an incorrect block. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Did women design this puzzle, and did they really want the event queues to include bombs blowing up?
The arrow blocks have NSEW on them. Why is the visual up/down/left/right being associated with NSEW? This bothers me because it wrongly correlates Up to North. I learned orienteering while living in Colorado, and this distinction could save lives when you are in the back country. Navigating by compass is a nuanced skill. Up is up, not necessarily North, when you are in the woods. The dashboard also shows “All-time total: 36 lines of code”. This seems kind of harsh, and competitive.
Once you select your set of arrows, you click Run. I appreciate the use of Run instead of Go, because that’s a coding concept, but it feels like it should be Go. The system tells you that “You just wrote 2 lines of code”.
Does picking arrow images correlate to coding, and does that resonate with kids? I’ll leave that to the experts. Kids probably just want the bird to move.
I know I have an inherent disinterest in games, so maybe that’s why I don’t get the point of the associations made in the Maze game.
Oh no, the next exercise is dragging blocks again. I’m done.
Intellectually, I recognize that there is nuanced, educational expertise behind how this activity functions. But, I have to believe kids get bored with page after page of basically the same puzzle. I do not see how this can lead to kids, especially girls, to make a connection with technology as builders.