The SAM Blog

Coding Games vs. Learn to Code Kits: Why Physical Kits Are The Tools to Level Up Learning

To keep students prepared for the evolving workforce, educators know they need to start teaching computational-thinking concepts and introduce coding early on. While educators have had to use traditional programming languages, textbooks or basic applications to teach coding, new educational technology options have come to market, bringing innovative ways to transform learning.

John Dewey was an American Philosopher that claimed “If students learn primarily by building their own knowledge, then teachers must adapt the curriculum to fit students’ prior knowledge and interests as fully as possible.” This notion has obviously had an effect on the technology we use in the 21st-century classroom. We have since moved on from the idea that education is solely information-based to an age where the curriculum is versatile in its teaching and relates to activities that students are likely to engage in outside the classroom. Because of this, now more than ever, there is a wide array of different educational technologies available, according to Technology for Learners, even in the form of games.

According to a study by NPD, 91% of U.S. children from the ages of 2 to 17 play video games. Still, the notion that games can be educational has only recently been accepted. Coding games are now slowly finding their way into the classroom, as a familiar media format for children with some positive learning outcomes.

Alongside the increase in coding game options, there have been a lot more tactile, physical coding alternatives coming into play.

Without understanding the differences the alternatives have to offer, these two approaches could seem quite similar. This week’s blog is dedicated to comparing game-based learning and coding kits and why you should take the leap to include both digital applications and hands-on, physical smart devices in your curriculum.


How Game-based Learning Changed the Game

Teachers have been using games to teach soft skills since the early ’70s. For example, games such as Oregon Trail (1971) taught American geography and history. Another famous game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (1982), had players chasing after thieves all around the globe and quizzing them with random geography questions. Even brand-licensed games like Star Wars: Droidworks (1998) taught science through the construction of droids and had the player-created droids complete puzzles. During the time of their release, these classroom games were the best that technology had to offer and only a handful of teachers could gain access to them.

Since then, we have witnessed great developments in game-based learning, especially in the context of coding games designed for the classroom and curriculum. One of the best ways these games have contributed to the education technology landscape is through pushing the agenda of STEM/STEAM. The inclusion of STEM/ STEAM has provided students with the opportunity to holistically develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills that are essential for navigating through today’s workforce.

 

The Appeal of Learning To Code Through Gaming

Specifically, studies have shown that games:

Improve coordination: Activities and actions players experience in a virtual world creates a great deal of mental stimulation. Playing video games requires players to coordinate their visual, audial and physical movement.

Encourage Students To Use Critical Thinking: A wide majority of games require players to plan and strategize, rather than focusing only on the current situation, which is perfect for developing problem-solving skills.

Help Students Work Efficiently: Fast pace (fighting and action) games require the player to pay attention to more than one aspect simultaneously i.e. controlling your character, whilst facing incoming dangers and maintaining your inventory.

Improve Social Interactions: Although gamers are often thought of as being reclusive, studies have shown that multi-player environments encourage socializing whereby players work together to solve problems.

With all these benefits, there is no doubt that games will always have a place in the classroom.

 

But Do Games Fall a Bit Short?

However, there is one area in particular where many games may fall short - individuality.

Games, if not a sandbox or creative space, are often a linear experience. Students who are less adept at playing games may not be able to take full advantage of the learning process. This can detract from the idea of STEAM, where students can incorporate creativity and inspiration from many different angles and link core subject matter from multiple different areas.

Because gaming can fall short when catering to student individuality, it opened up the opportunity for a new education technology tool in the market that answered to that student need: learn to code kits.

 

The New Kid on The Block: Physical Coding Kits

Coding kits are the latest edtech solution that has come to the K-12 market and have revolutionized the classroom. Long gone are the days when coding was thought of as a daunting subject that only the elite could teach or understand. They provide an exciting introduction to learning 21st-century skills.

Coding kits are comprised of physical components such as blocks, sensors, wires, yet don’t lose the digital component, as it interfaces with a digital app where programming can take place. Kits benefit STEAM as they encourage students to create complex projects regardless of varying levels of ability in the classroom.

For instance, by learning to code, students are able to pick-up computational thinking which in turn reinforces their cognitive skills and ability to convey logical and sequential thought processes. But what makes them so revolutionary is how they provide students with a new environment to learn, enable engaging experiences and give the confidence to tackle daunting subjects.

 

The Advantages of Using Learn to Code Kits Over Games

There are a number of ways that learn to code kits help students learn beyond what games may be able to do:

  1. While games improve coordination digitally, kits help students both digitally and work with physical components. This helps introduce engineering concepts beyond what a game could digitally do.
  2. Although games provide the opportunity to ‘save progress’ and ‘continue from’, kits can allow students to deconstruct and reconstruct both the physical and digital learning process at any point in time during their learning.
  3. Games are pass/fail and move on. Kits utilize the Learn-Do-Reflect cycle, where students are able to master the basics of coding and computer science by visualizing key subject knowledge, testing and improving the configuration while controlling the physical components found in these kits.
  4. The kits provide an abundance of resources that help educators and students get started on complicated subject matter that provides a literal birds-eye view of both the digital and physical products. For educators, this can be extremely helpful, especially if a student becomes stuck and asks for help. With a game, an educator may not know how a student arrived at a level, but with kits, the physical components can provide a roadmap of their thinking.

The hands-on approach that coding kits utilize means that they are not limited to classroom use. The arrival of Makerspaces has transformed libraries into spaces that provide the appropriate supplies and tools that work hand in hand with coding kits. The ready-made content (i.e. projects and activities) that comes with most coding kits encourages independent learning and creates fun and engaging experiences that fill time in the classroom whilst reducing teacher workload.

Coding kits can be looked at as complementary of STEAM and several other learning outcomes that fuse theory with application and reflection. By utilizing kits in the classroom, you are certain to empower your students and help them master algorithms, loops, variables, functions, and the essential soft skills the working world needs.


All The Resources You Need For Implementing a School or District-wide Computer Science Coding Program

By choosing the right education technology for your curriculum, educators empower students with the tools that will help them make sense of technology that is changing our world. Coding is no longer limited to just the software industry: finance, manufacturing, healthcare and even art designers are rapidly adopting methods that are used in coding to achieve their goals.

Coding kits may just be the innovative step you need to take for your students future. Here at SAM Labs, we are dedicated to providing the tools educators need to make that step to facilitate 21st-century learning. Think of us as the trusted guide at the beginning of a video game or the final block that helps complete your kit - we’ll provide you with your first step-by-step guide on what to do in order to implement a coding program and the physical tools to do so.

Check out these free resources:

What are your favorite coding resources? Comment with your round-up of tools below.