Review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2018
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codeSpark Academy

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Drag and drop visual code blocks, guide monsters through obstacles

Subjects & skills
Subjects
N/A

Skills
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
K–3
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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Pros: Game-like style is well designed, allows young students to put coding concepts into practice.

Cons: Doesn't promote deep conceptual understanding; teachers will need to compensate for lack of in-game help.

Bottom Line: With strong teacher instructional support, a fun option for basic coding practice.

codeSpark Academy is best used to let students practice concepts they've learned in other contexts and situations. Because there's no specific instructional element to the app, students may not recognize that what they're doing is putting coding concepts to work to solve problems. If students use the app before or after more direct instruction about, for example, what loops do and how they work in code, they'll be much more likely to see what they're doing with codeSpark Academy as actual coding. If teachers don't help students make that connection, a lot of the important learning may be missed. Teacher instructional materials include lesson plans as well as a solutions guide that gives students prompts to complete all of the levels.  

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codeSpark Academy is a simple game-based app for learning about coding concepts. Kids drag and drop commands -- represented by visual blocks of code from the Scratch programming language -- into the correct order to animate a personalized character to collect coins or rescue lost pets by navigating around obstacles. Kids must complete one level to advance to the next, and they receive one, two, or three stars based on how efficiently they use the commands; levels can be replayed for a higher score. Important coding concepts like loops, conditionals, sequences, and events are introduced with multiple challenges that build in complexity. In the Create/Design and Code section, challenges are more open-ended, with students combining the concepts they learned in more original ways. 

For teachers, codeSpark Academy allows for the creation of classes and the tracking of student progress in key coding skill areas. Once a class is created, teachers can set up the app on classroom devices so that students can play the game without any complicated login procedures or passwords.

codeSpark Academy is a fun game for young students to see loops, conditionals, events, and so forth in action, and can easily be integrated into an elementary classroom. Kids won't actually see any of the language of programming or write actual code, but they'll drag and drop commands into place to control the game, giving them a picture of what's involved behind the scenes, so to speak, in the video games they play. Since there's no in-app help or directions by design (which does make it accessible to more students), kids have to figure out what to do and how to do it on their own. A solutions guide is available, and it's really essential since some levels involve trickier solutions requiring multiple characters.

Deep understanding of the concepts, however, will come from a social learning environment. codeSpark Academy doesn't offer that; it offers a way to practice. For teachers who understand basic coding principles, the concepts in codeSpark Academy can be taught more effectively unplugged (without a device) than with the app. It would be far better to have students involved in cooperative game-based classroom activities that provide ample opportunity for discussion and reflection. Once students have that foundation, they'll truly appreciate the coding concepts in codeSpark Academy.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The story-based game with whimsical characters is fun for younger kids, and the increasing challenge of each level will keep kids motivated. For those beyond grade three, the design and music will feel very young.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Visual blocks of code make important coding concepts accessible for young kids, including loops, variables, events, etc. No feedback is offered, though, on how to improve solutions, and conceptual understanding is limited.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There's an intuitive interface, and simple animation serves as effective instructions, but there's no help for kids in-app. A curriculum and solutions guide is available for teachers.


Common Sense Reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Andy L. , Other
Other
Christa McAuliffe Elementary School
Hastings, MN
Game Under the Cloak of Coding
The Foos is a mixed bag for me. The upside is student engagement. The downside is the ease in which students can take a coding skill-building app and skip around practice to simply 'play.' I would prefer to see this app make the playing aspect of the game an earned experience - finish a round of coding practice, play a user-generated game level. By making the gaming side so easy and attractive, it feels like the app is pulling many of our kids away from the creation of game programming and locking them into game consuming - at which they are already very proficient.
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