These three applications make it fairly easy to learn basic software programming concepts, from block building (Hopscotch and Tynker) to the more sophisticated (but easy to understand) approach for the Codea iPad application. All three reward play and provide quick feedback as you build code.
An iPad application that uses the AppInventor and Scratch paradigm of standalone and nested blocks you combine to create fun applications. While the range of possible actions appears small, blocks can be combined in many different ways for hours of creative fun. The initial screens explain the basic concepts. Help describes how all the actions work. Pick a character then make them do stuff like move, draw lines, change clothes, rotate, and other fun behaviors. While made friendly to encourage girls to code, it is a fun challenge for anyone at any age.
Over 600 schools have signed up to use Tynker since their official launch last April. The online service takes the popular Scratch application a couple steps further by optimizing how Scratch projects are put together. For example, repeating loop actions can be built with one set of blocks, not several sets. This saves time, works more like real code, and helps kids focus on their tasks. Each project includes guided help with popups to lead you step by step through projects. Backwards compatible with Scratch projects: you can import them into Tynker. Their courses are designed by teachers but the projects also work in a way any teacher can build a lesson plan for a project, for example, to explain basic physical properties such as bouncing and direction of motion. Currently available only to schools, not invidividuals, mostly because the application is designed for group classroom use led by a teacher. Like Hopscotch, the service uses blocks to build applications and any code is hidden.
This iPad application makes it fairly easy to create games and apps for the iPad, as well as learn basic programming concepts. Code is visible, not too complicated to read, and rewards tinkering. You can change values, for example, then easily see the results. Example projects show you how to blend color modes, set parameters, add physics properties to objects (think Jelly Car, the game), control sprites, and more than 20 other sophisticated bits of coding. Includes lots of help and easy to read reference pages. Costs $9.99 and is well worth it for people who are ready to go beyond block-oriented programming apps. Also a great start point for people who want to learn key concepts for game programming. Codea uses Lua, a friendly programming language often used in real games.
Also In The August 2013 Issue
Troy Hunt is a software architect and Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) focusing on security concepts and process improvement in a Fortune 50 company. He's based in Australia.
If you use a password you created that is less than eight characters, your password is vulnerable to hacking. Here are three ways to create and use secure passwords online.
Coding securely doesn't have to kill the joy of programming. In fact, learning how to code securely provides insights into languages and computing.
How to code an HTML email like the ones you open every day turns out to be an offbeat software coding challenge.
How to tell if a web page is secure is one of the most basic yet least obvious ways to protect your data online.
One key computing skill is the ability to use command line interface (CLI) software to enter commands to control a computer. Here are some options.
Lua is a comparatively simple programming language used in a wide range of places, from digital TVs to video games to phone applications. It's also designed to be simple to use and lightweight.
Here is how three programming languages handle a common problem: how do you organize and keep track of useful data?
Some of the most common commands you'll need for a command line interface (CLI), in a Linux command list.
Must read stories about computer science, software programming, and technology for September 2013.
Links from the bottom of all the October 2013 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.
Here is a deceptively simple math puzzle at least 1200 years old.