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Tynker: Coding Games for Kids
Pros: Colorful puzzles focus on specific skills.
Cons: The difficulty of puzzles ramps up quickly.
Bottom Line: This innovative, bite-size approach gives kids an intro to some of the basics of programming.
The Tynker app works best as an introduction to procedural thinking, more than programming. While the challenge in programming starts with seeing how a complex problem breaks down into smaller steps, this puzzler focuses on playing with small bits of code to solve a very specific problem.
Teachers will find that the app works best when used in conjunction with the Tynker website and curriculum. Connected to the more complete Tynker world, the app makes for a perfectly portable set of practice exercises for students already engaged in the much more complete Tynker website.
Tynker fits into a growing category of LEGO-like programming tools, where kids snap together code blocks to create operational computer programs. The approach, made popular in education circles through MIT's free Scratch platform, encourages learning through exploration as opposed to memorization of arcane programming formulas and formats.
Players encounter new programming concepts a step at a time as they attempt to solve mini programming puzzles. A typical puzzle offers the player a few simple code blocks like jump, walk, and repeat. When blocks are assembled into the right sequence, a colorful cartoon character ambles across the screen, hopping over obstacles and reaching a reward on the other side. A variety of challenges take the player into outer space, solving puzzles on locked doors using programming code, and even a set of levels where programs cause a small robot to draw shapes on the screen. Feedback after every level rewards stars for good answers and offers tips when the program fails to solve the assigned task.
The Tynker iPad app borrows puzzles, content, and structure from the Tynker website. As a result, the game draws kids in with an overall polish in sound, graphics, and design. Unfortunately, this approach strips away most of the Tynker website's streamlined visual programming interface, leaving only a few parts that players need to solve each puzzle. Once kids have played with the app for a while, unlocking and completing all of the levels, they still might be wondering how it all fits together.