Sugar Coated Coding

Is this app a door opener to coding for some learners? 

Coding and programming don’t come naturally to me. I have to work hard to get the basic principles. I think a move to making and understanding programs as opposed to simply using them is a good thing. I’ve  watched kids in classrooms this year, work harder, think harder and enjoy outcomes from apps like Hopscotch.

At the time of writing the Daily Telegraph is reporting that teachers are poorly qualified to respond to the 2014 Computing Curriculum. I’m not sure how true this is. It will depend on the knowledge and experience available in your school and your network for CPD. There are emerging sources of support some free and some very much set up to take your money/subscription.


Above: Espresso coding written in a friendly HTML5 –  so it is iPad friendly

Some schools will take the easy option of an “off the shelf” solution such as Espresso Coding. This is HTML5 based, therefore iPad friendly. You can test it out for free. There’s nothing wrong with an “off the shelf” approach, but often it can be a little dull and one dimensional. More confident schools will use a range of tools and platforms and the iPad will only be part of that experience.

Like many other people involved in technology and education, I have been spending the little free time I have, trying to figure out how to introduce programming and coding for 2014. iPad apps have quite a useful role to play in preparing and developing thinking/problem solving. However being able to use a range of devices, beyond the iPad, has to be the best way forward.

If you have got iPads you’ll need to make the best of them. Most people have seen the Bee-Bot app (Free) and it’s extended partner app Bee-Bot Pyramid  (69p). This could tie thematically into and Egyptian Topic projects 😉 The latter is aimed at more at KS2. The physical Bee-bot is more fun in the classroom than the app, but the app and the many that opt for this format are useful.

On similar lines, I’ve also been exploring the using the Sphero 2.0. This toy is a robotic ball that is controlled by the iPad or iPod Touch. There’s a range of free apps of free including an Augmented Reality zombie game! What interested me though was the ability to write simple code/instructions to control the movement and colour of Sphero. We have used this as a toy with early years at St Silas and it has proven to be very popular. I’m hoping that we can look at ways of including it with KS1 and KS2.


Sphero Macrolab is the free app for programming and controlling movements. Whilst this isn’t true coding or even sophisticated programming, it does encourage children to develop sequencing and control ideas and develop a mindset that will help them with the new curriculum. It is possible to pick up Sphero version 1.0’s on eBay for £35-£45 each.

Two of the most popular apps are Daisy Dinosaur and Hopscotch both fit nicely across KS1 and KS2. Developing the basic control and movement concepts in Bee-Bot Daisy the Dinosaur. Both apps are made by the same developer and have clean easy to understand interface. Daisy has a series of activities/tutorials built in, whereas there is no support/tutorial element in Hopscotch. This  doesn’t seem to be a problem. Learners soon seem to pick it up and make progress.


Here’s a screenshot of my Hopscotch app. It’s not great, but it does involve tilting the iPad, dodging a patrolling monster, collisions and a very basic narrative. I’m proud of it 😉

I’m still very much at the “play mode” level of using these apps, where the learners know as much and in some cases more than I do! Hopscotch also allows emailing and sharing using Airdrop – this can be very useful for sharing outcomes. You can’t though, combine programming sequences from different projects.

Hopscotch is modelled on the popular and free Scratch programming tool that is free to download for your computer. Scratch and tools like this are key to pupil engagement.

The basic program functions in Hopscotch are:

  • Movement
  • Drawing
  • Control/Flow
  • Appearance
  • Variables
  • Math

These are very similar to Scratch and therefore helpful when planning continuity/familiarity in schemes of work across different devices.

Whilst Scratch is Flash based it will actually run on iPads (albeit slowly) with the free Puffin Browser. Having said this it will be much faster and a smoother experience on a computer.


Above:Scratch running in the Puffin Browser on the iPad

The fact that Scratch and Hopscotch are both free means that many learners will download them at home. I‘ve found that to be the case this year as we have trialled tools in preparation for Sept 2014. There are some Scratch tutorials on the app store for example Scratch Maze and Scratch 2 Games.

Sitting close to Hopscotch is Move the Turtle. This app contains 29 example projects which are useful, but I think older learners will soon be frustrated with dealing with a turtle. This is where other computer based tools will take over.


Another app that appears to be growing in popularity is Kodable. This comes in a free and a paid for version. The paid version basically includes all the in app purchases. The full version has 3 different worlds and 30 levels per world. The app is built around the narrative of  the Fuzz family who crash their space ship. The fuzzes are very logical and our role is to help them navigate through the new worlds. The app enables learners to “if ,then” statements that allow for more variations of code.


The free version of Kodable comes with some detailed teacher notes that help explain the bigger picture to those like me with a non-programming background. One of the three sections is called “Bugs Below” which is a “sugar coated” approach to debugging.

It’s great that Cargo Bot offers the option to export a video of the process to the camera roll. This is useful for creating reflective blogs/ebooks etc on the coding/programming process.

One app that focuses heavily on “if, then” is the free app Cargo Bot. This is like a brain trainer for using conditions and loops. It has helped me understand a little more looping and trying to programme in a lean manner. This app has been coded on the iPad using the app Codea. Codea is based on a programming language called Lua. Codea looks impressive but I think is possible more of a KS3/4 experience.

Hakitzu is an interesting app. Whilst like many others it employs a robot motif, these Robots are in 3D! You can customise them and then programme them within a narrative. The programming language is Javascript. The app trains the learner through simple activities to take control of the robots. Initially the Javascript is provided to move the robot. But once you graduate from the training you have to use the built in keyboard to code using Javascript. I think learners will need to take screen shots and make a note/log book of the code as it doesn’t stay on screen for long. I will try and video a clip at the beginning of this blog to show the graphics.

I’m not really into gaming at home, but this app really engaged the learners that I have worked with. The only caveat is that the app is Game Centre based. So you will need to check that Game Centre apps works on your school web filtering system and if you have managed iPads, Game Centre is not restricted. The idea of learners playing a multi-player coding game is (to me at least) quite exciting!


There are some very good tutorials with this app, the challenge is going off the beaten track!

This leads me neatly to Gamepress!  Whilst not exactly coding or programming, it is a fully featured game creation tool for the iPad. Games are can be constructed with a high level of complexity, that requires a lot of logical thinking and problem solving. Games can be shared through the Arcade. The challenge in class is finding model that works. Each student could have an account, although in a primary context I think  I would set up 8 table accounts that support my 8 iPads way of working with limited resources.

Resources that have helped me so far on this digital roadtrip-

CAS’s Document for Primary Teachers

Also do follow…… the most excellent @drchips_

His scheme of work for Computing and Programming is great piece of work for all teachers trying to pull some ideas together.