Before setting out to understand the details of what is block coding, here is an analogy to simplify matters. Imagine your child wants to be an engineer, and he is fascinated by buildings and construction. What do you do when he says he wants to build a house or a building?
Do you hand him bricks, cement, mortar and send him straight to work? No, you probably buy him an engineer’s set or a building block game so that he can start creating houses with Lego blocks and watch his wishes come to life. No one expects him to venture into building real-life minarets at a young age.
A similar approach should be taken for children who want to start coding. Instead of getting small children started on hard-core programming, it is better to get them introduced to block-based programming, which is programmatically equivalent to the Lego blocks or jigsaw puzzles.
What block-based programming does is, it creates an interactive platform where children can use drag and drop programming “pieces” to write a program.
For example, in programming, there is a construct of loops, which means to repeat a particular task some specified number of times. How is this mapped to block-based programming? The “loop” construct is turned into a “piece of a puzzle”. This piece needs to be “joined” with other different kinds of pieces to create the final program.
Block-based programming uses the same programming constructs as regular programming, but the approach is slightly different. It can be closely related to solving jigsaw puzzles.
What is Block-Based Coding?
Block-based programming is a close cousin of regular programming. It makes use of “blocks” of code which can be dragged and dropped onto a work environment and pieced together to make sensible and meaningful programs. It is suited especially for children since it does not require the memorisation of programming syntax, nor does it require tedious typing.
Also, its chief advantage is that it is highly expressive and is a visual means of viewing code which makes the process of coding both fun and engaging. Get your children, preferably below the age of ten, started on block programming as it will build the necessary skills required to tackle full-scale programming later in life.
What Exactly are Blocks?
While building up an understanding of why children need to be introduced to block-based programming, you first need to understand what is meant by the term blocks. Blocks are nothing but small portions of code. For example, the “for” loop construct in regular programming is represented in the form of a “block” as shown below.
The diagram clearly shows how loops are created, and various components of the loop can be joined to each other to make a standalone portion of code.
Every programming “block” (also known as the building blocks of programming like conditionals, loops, variable declarations, function calls) are all represented by a small piece of a “block” which looks very similar to the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
What the user needs to do is to drag and drop these pieces into a work environment, then join them together to build the final code.
This process dramatically reduces the time spent in coding as there is no typing required. Every line of code is built up by joining these jigsaw puzzles “pieces” or “blocks” together.
With this explanation, hopefully, it is clear what is block coding.
What are the Different Blocks in Scratch?
There are roughly three significant types of blocks which are used in the programming language Scratch. These are:
These blocks are used to integrate movement into the sprite, like taking steps forward as well as turning left and right by different angle degrees.
Use this block to make a sprite talk or think or make changes in the costume and appearance of the characters. You can even change the size and colours of the sprites.
Sound blocks help to add in the features like sounds which make the animation or the story very engaging for the user. For example, you can use the “meow” sound to make a cat speak.
With the help of these various blocks, children can dress and play with the various characters that they have created.
What are Sprites?
The term has its origins in graphic design during the 1970s where it was used to represent a two-dimensional bitmap. But now in block programming concerning the programming platform Scratch, sprites are nothing but small images that children can make and program to perform a variety of activities like move, jump, sing, dance etc.
What Can Sprites Do?
One of the things to know about the topic “what is block coding” is what the sprites do. In the Scratch interface, a sprite is nothing but a small image that can be programmed to perform some tasks.
Children can program the sprite they make to talk, grow, shrink, jump, glide. It is the same as creating a cartoon character.
How to Make Your Sprite?
Creating or painting your own sprite is very easy in Scratch.
In the lower right-hand corner, click the button that looks like Scratch, and you will get an option of painting your custom sprite. You can also name your sprite and animate it to do a variety of things.
What Can Kids Create with Drag and Drop Block Programming?
Now that you have understood what is block coding, you can easily be led to the next step of thinking. What can be created with block coding? You can create a variety of animations and exciting stories with a bunch of different characters. Children can also make exciting games as well as implement logic in these games.
So, to sum up, the sky is the limit with block programming, and almost anything can be created using these fundamentals.
Benefits of Block-Based Programming
Now that what is block coding is conceptually clear, you should understand what the benefits of this particular type of programming are. How is it more beneficial than other types of programming? What are the advantages over other coding methodologies? Here is a comprehensive listing of all the benefits of block-based programming.
Programming is often seen as a time-consuming activity since you have to type every single line of code by hand. What block-based programming does, is make the whole process of writing code quick. Also, the visual aspect of block-based coding makes the process a lot smoother and crisper when it comes to programming for lengthy projects.
Text-based coding is laborious because you have to memorise the syntax as well as the rules of writing code. And not many non-engineers can readily adapt to it as these coding languages are made by engineers for other engineers. So, what happens to those who do not have formal training in code but want to get started building their own small applications? What sort of tools are available to them? Here is where block-based programming comes in handy. It is very intuitive and needs no formal training to be good at it. Any first-timer can pick it up in a matter of days. Also, the simplicity of building the code with block-based coding is unrivalled.
Yes, and that is a good thing. Since logic can be implemented more intuitively with block-based programming, the syntax is not the primary concern here. There is no need to worry about syntax errors since the only kinds of mistakes that can be made are conceptual ones. The benefits of this feature are, it allows a shorter development time and allows the creation of software that is easy to maintain.
Visual programming makes use of blocks that demonstrate easy programming concepts. Syntax and simulation are very simply shown through block-based programming. It can be compared to fitting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
In conclusion, block-based programming is beneficial to start for children. It makes the implementation of logic very intuitive and does not need to learn difficult concepts which the other high-level programming languages require. They can quickly learn how to run programs and unleash their creativity.
What Kind of Games can Your Kids Make with Block Coding?
With block programming, a variety of programs, games, animations, and stories can be constructed. Games, though, seem to be the main reason why everyone prefers block coding. Children enjoy playing computer games, and they will also enjoy creating these games. So, what are some games that can be created with block programming?
Here is a comprehensive list.
You can make a game where you have to click on an object, and doing so earns you points. For example, imagine a game where bubbles from a bubble-blower are floating up. The user has to click on bubbles of a particular size. Whenever he correctly clicks on the bubble of the right size, he earns bonus points.
These games have their foundation in running and catching which every child must have played at least once. In the computer version of the game, you can have a thief who runs away with some valuables and a policeman who chases after him. During the chase, a lot of “barriers” should appear, around which the policeman has to navigate. Successfully doing so can result in earning points but failing to do so can result in penalties.
In this game type, a bouncing ball must be somehow prevented from touching the ground. You can use the mouse to act as a paddle and prevent the ball from touching the ground.
Using the arrow keys which signify the four cardinal directions, you can create a game where a dog has to find a bone. The player has to help the dog reach its destination (bone) through a maze using these controls. Arrow games are simple to code.
Adventure games require a greater understanding as well as more complex code. These games involve a character usually setting off on an adventure and collecting some coins or rewards along the way. Some barriers and hurdles have to be completed to move on to the next rounds. Such a game is quite complicated to make and should be attempted by older children.
The Scratch interface is ideal for creating dress up games where some game character has to put on a certain article of clothing to accomplish any challenges.
Scratch is a top-rated platform for games, and one of the most highly sought after features of the environment are its ease of use to build games. So, get your children started on their programming journey by building a vast plethora of games.
Resources for Learning Block Coding
If you are interested in getting your child started on block programming, here are some of the resources that you can use.
Easily the most simple tool to teach children below the age of ten how to code is to get them started on Scratch Jr. This application makes use of block-based code which needs to be dragged and dropped into an environment to join up and create a particular program.
The premise of this environment may be to play games, but it very cleverly uses the notion of programming by again using drag and drop options to help the monkey find and eat its banana. While it may seem very tame, the game does build up the principles of coding and sequential thinking.
Kodable helps you to use block-based and text-based programming to solve problems. The website is aimed at children from the ages of 4 to 7. Register and begin to play as you learn.
As parents, you want to do the very best for your child in terms of boosting their chances to a more successful life. In the future, with many more technological advances, programming is going to take over the world in a big way. It may even become the biggest employer. So, now is the time to start your children off on a bright career in programming.