Games for tomorrow's programmers.
September 4, 2014 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Blockly Games is a series of educational games that teach programming. It is designed for children who have not had prior experience with computer programming. By the end of these games, players are ready to use conventional text-based languages.
posted by boo_radley (20 comments total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
Nice to see that they've kept developing new puzzles and exercises!

The original maze exercise was so popular on a mailing list I was on a few years back, I rigged it up with a maze generator so you can try your hand against random mazes (source).
posted by lantius at 1:21 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Within seconds I joined the tide of favouriting parents.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 1:34 PM on September 4, 2014

Pond is fun (and also RobotWar).
posted by fleacircus at 2:28 PM on September 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

That Blockly exists at all is mostly down to the tenacity of Neil Fraser.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:57 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Last maze needs a play/pause button to interrupt your code execution. :P
posted by xtian at 3:40 PM on September 4, 2014

Is there a hint function? I am stuck on Maze #8.
posted by divabat at 3:41 PM on September 4, 2014

Divabat: hint: you can stack "if" functions.
posted by HermitDog at 3:57 PM on September 4, 2014

I feel like a bit of a jerk saying this, but is there any reason why this is superior to Logo? It just feels gimmicky.
posted by hoyland at 4:34 PM on September 4, 2014

hoy, do you have a link to 'Logo'?
posted by xtian at 4:50 PM on September 4, 2014

I think this is a great introduction to the ideas used in programming. Much better than the equivalent at Khan Academy.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:58 PM on September 4, 2014

I could totally see someone learning how programming works using this. There are some issues however... Variables are introduced at the end, with no explanation, which is kind of a big step.

And yeah, there is a "Turtle" game -- so it's not exactly ignoring Logo.

My first programming experience was logoesque, but slightly more real-world: e.g. Big Trak. And I totally did not think of it as "programming" at the time. :-)
posted by smidgen at 5:00 PM on September 4, 2014

Here's an old online version. Logo evolved into Scratch, but I think Scratch has the same sort of "move pieces with words around" thing as in the link.
posted by hoyland at 5:00 PM on September 4, 2014

I guess I can be more precise about what feels gimmicky. I don't know that there's anything new here, just pretty javascript. There's nothing really wrong with that, but kids don't need these games to be 'prepared' for conventional languages. I'll grant that moving blocks around probably makes loops and conditionals easier to understand, but if you're capable of solving the mazes, writing code is not such a big jump that it necessitates playing the rest of it, and Logo is pretty much proof of that.
posted by hoyland at 5:10 PM on September 4, 2014

I just started teaching [music] at a K-8 school in Chicago that has adopted a K-8 coding curriculum. The younger kids are working with Blockly. I'm really excited to see how it comes along this year!
posted by rossination at 6:26 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Blockly's interface is nice in that it doesn't let you write programs that give weird syntax errors: the blocks simply don't fit. If you're trying to teach K-8 programming, this is a good thing. Many kids don't write sentences that pass English grammar, let alone an unambiguous grammar designed for computers. There's nothing about text that makes it inherently better at representing programs; frankly, this model comes a lot closer to representing the AST than text does.

If you're dead set on a textual interface, then you may be interested in Droplet, which converts between coffeescript and blockly representation at the click of a mouse. Since Droplet was super popular on proggit this week, I assumed boo_radly was framing the post to talk about it, and I'm surprised I'll be the first to mention it in thread.

Beyond their application as teaching tools, this technology has a really important set of use cases: allowing people to write code for webapps cleanly. Have you ever tried to write a ticket query in RequestTracker? The 'easy form' is super terrible and I often find myself just writing text queries by hand and having to guess at the syntax. Have you ever written a mail filter chain in Zimbra? It's completely horrorshow. Tools like droplet give web designers the opportunity to write a query page that isn't a complete failure.
posted by pwnguin at 6:32 PM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I started the first game, "Puzzle", and got lost for ten minutes, thinking about what type of duck that was, and how that question might relate to duck typing.

But I say if it gets kids interested, then do it. My introduction to programming was getting one of these working, but that's not going to appeal to everyone.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:37 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My 9 year old was having a great time this evening with this. We'd/she's played with the maze part a while ago; the rest of the puzzles are a great update.

They're very well done. The "heading" for the birds, with the angle interface that you can drag, was especially nice, as was the limited selection of angles for the turtle part. She's had no exposure to angle measure, as far as I know, so she could just try all the angles to make the pentagram until she found the one that worked. Tend experimental aspect of it is really nice.

I also appreciated on the maze one that there was a more "girly" option---in addition to a google-maps-like interface, there was a dude in a spacesuit traveling along pipes and a panda traveling along bamboo. She was pleased with the panda option.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:51 PM on September 4, 2014

Pond #5 has got me completely stumped. I think it's missing some explanation of how while loops work, maybe, which is almost always where I get stuck when trying to learn to program.
posted by cthuljew at 3:42 AM on September 5, 2014

My 8 year old enjoyed the first several mazes.

As for LOGO, it was my first introduction to programming and I love it, but I honestly like this better as a first introduction. Its more structured, the graphical interface makes syntax errors (the bane of many first time programmers, especially kids) an impossibility, and by setting discrete goals rather than the sandbox that is LOGO it is easier to introduce concepts and present challenges.

LOGO is a sandbox. This is a more linear and structured environment. Both have their uses, but for absolute beginners a more linear and structured environment is a definite plus.

And, as others have mentioned, they have a mini-LOGO built in later, and there's plenty of LOGO implementations out there (free even), so that after going through this you can show the kid LOGO and they'll be able to jump into it more easily and have some idea of what they can do, what they might want to do, etc.
posted by sotonohito at 5:57 AM on September 5, 2014

As used in, complete with tutorial videos by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.
posted by vasi at 11:41 PM on September 5, 2014

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