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Pros: Serious programming challenges and a gradual learning curve help kids gain real-world skills.
Cons: Advanced students may find challenges move too slowly, and struggling students may need more than the included hints.
Bottom Line: A great intro to coding that, with solid teacher support, gets students using real programming languages.
Teachers will find CodeMonkey offers a friendly but challenging introduction to computer programming, with a bit more rigor and knowledge transfer than can be found in the elementary coding tools that don't engage with actual scripting. The easy-to-read code and easy-to-follow connection between the code and the action make it a perfect platform for talking about some core concepts in programming, and educators don't need to have any programming experience to get started. Students will enjoy the challenging puzzles and the cartoon setting. To implement, teachers can rely on the full set of detailed lesson plans included in the classroom version and use the dashboard to track student progress and achievements; the interface also includes an answer key, and there's an automatic grading option. Teachers can see their students' solutions to the challenges and the games they create in the Showroom, where they can share them with the class. For teachers who want or need more support, there are free webinars, video tutorials, and professional development options to help. A couple of courses are less than a semester, but most are longer.
CodeMonkey puts students in charge of helping a monkey retrieve its lost bananas while journeying through a whimsical map full of procedural coding puzzles, writing real code in CoffeeScript or Python to solve them. Designed for those with no prior programming experience, each of the hundreds of included levels is viewed from a top-down perspective, and students must write and run code snippets in one area of the screen in order to guide the monkey across each level in another. This separated style helps students instantly see the results of their work, and the game steps through each line of code as it's acted out. Courses begin with block-based coding for little kids, and then proceed with activities like Dodo Does Math and Banana Tales.
Each new level of CodeMonkey introduces an additional piece of code or a new function, or challenges players to put previously learned pieces together for themselves. Programming concepts covered include loops, variables, function calls and definitions, objects, arguments, arrays, for loops, Boolean conditions, until loops, if and if-else conditions, and keyboard and mouse events. Difficulty increases slowly but steadily, and students can see how each piece of syntax affects the outcome. Students can also switch between Story mode and Skill mode, where they get extra practice on the skills they've learned. Students also earn achievements after reaching certain thresholds.
After players get the gist of the interface and puzzles, the focus is on getting each solution to work as efficiently as possible so it receives the maximum number of stars. If students have trouble solving a puzzle or don't receive the maximum number of stars, hints are given as to how to write more effective code. Students can share their best solutions and even create their own challenges once they've finished all the puzzles, while teachers -- with the paid classroom or school version -- can track students' progress and help students with an answer key of all solutions.
Be advised, though, puzzles can be tough. Though there are plenty of in-game hints, teachers solutions, shared peer solutions, and developer consultations, students will still be challenged. Lessons are grouped into sections that help students learn one skill well before moving on to the next; each lesson builds on previous learning. More advanced students can eventually move on to creating their own games or setting up new challenges for their peers to solve. A few sandbox-style activities would give CodeMonkey more flexibility -- and having the Hour of Code activities available for free would be ideal -- but in all, it's got tons to offer.