Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2017


Puzzler's use of real code fills niche in crowded learn-to-code genre

Subjects & skills
  • Math
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Charming art mixed with serious programming challenges, gradual learning curve.

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, with solid teacher support, gets kids using a real programming language and digging into some meatier concepts than other early coding tools.

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 early-elementary coding tools that don't engage with actual scripting. The easy-to-read code and easy-to-follow connection between the code on the right-hand side and the action on the left make it a perfect platform for talking about some core concepts in programming. Kids 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.

Teachers should also encourage students to take full advantage of the game's solution-sharing feature to help struggling students get past challenges. High-achieving students who finish early can also be encouraged to design challenges for their classmates, or even program their own apps for smartphones and tablets with the game design courses. To level up students' coding abilities, teachers should look into JavaScript so students can compare the two closely related languages. Teachers need not have any programming experience to implement the included curriculum. Code Monkey also participates in Hour of Code, and hosts competitions students can sign up for.

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CodeMonkey encourages students to "write code, catch bananas, and save the world!" Students help a monkey retrieve her lost bananas, journeying through a whimsical map full of procedural coding puzzles. Each of the hundreds of included levels is viewed from a top-down perspective, and students must write and "run" code snippets on the right side of the screen to steer the monkey across each level on the left side of the screen. This two-sided style helps students instantly see the results of their work, and the game steps through each line of code as it's acted out on the other side of the screen. 

Each new level of CodeMonkey introduces an additional piece of code or a new function, or challenges the player to put the pieces together for themselves. After players get the gist of the interface and puzzles, the focus is on getting each solution to not only work but work efficiently so they receive the maximum number of stars. If students 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 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.

CodeMonkey was designed to help introduce kids to programming using the CoffeeScript language -- a simpler, more intuitive version of JavaScript. Borrowing many ideas from the classic code-learning platform Logo, this puzzle game keeps the mood light and ensures each level builds on the level before. This incremental approach to puzzle-solving makes CodeMonkey feel more like play and less like drilling and practicing code concepts and syntax (even though kids are dealing with real code). Because of this, CodeMonkey is an excellent introduction to coding for younger students who need more of a challenge than the drag-and-drop, block-style programs provide (e.g., Scratch or Hopscotch).

Be advised, though, puzzles can be tough and will stump students. While there's a lot of support -- there are plenty of in-game hints, teachers have the solutions, peers can share theirs, and the developers are available for consultation -- students will still be challenged to do their best. Lessons are grouped into sections that help students learn one skill well before moving on to the next. Each lesson builds on previous learning. 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. Future releases will include even more topics.

Overall Rating

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

Cute cartoon graphics welcome young, new programmers, with the carrot-on-a-stick metaphor replaced with bananas. The slowly increasing level of puzzle difficulty keeps players focused. 

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

Clever programming puzzles move the player through each new concept, usually providing just enough difficulty to challenge without frustrating. This bite-sized learning makes bigger concepts easier to digest.

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

An excellent curriculum guide and lesson plans support teachers, and players can either type or click buttons to enter code. Students who don't find coding intuitive may need a little extra guidance from peers or teachers.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Jana C. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Eastside Elementary School
Clinton, United States
Great way to move students from block coding to scripted coding!
I love the gap that CodeMonkey fills between block and scripted coding. It allows students to begin with blocks and see how those translate into scripted commands. However, I cannot depend on it because of the price-point. With all of the free options out there, I just keep looking, hoping to find an equivalent, while still understanding the need for paid products. I love that they offer a free trial, though. Thanks, CodeMonkey, for giving me a taste of something great!
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