Solving the Puzzle of Computer Coding for Young Students

A teacher uses Code Jumper to teach three students how to code.

By American Printing House for the Blind

Many aspects of learning can easily be compared to a puzzle, such as solving a math problem or writing a grammatically correct sentence. Much of it comes down to problem-solving and, if a student is working with classmates, collaboration.

Case in point: Code JumperTM, which takes computer coding off the screen and turns it into the equivalent of a puzzle. Designed by Microsoft® and developed by American Printing House for the Blind (APH), Code Jumper is made of brightly colored plastic pods with large buttons and knobs. The pods are connected by thick cords, similar to computer cords, that students use to create basic computer code that can tell stories, play music and even crack jokes.

It’s ideal for students who are blind or visually impaired, giving them a chance to learn foundational concepts before moving to a computer. Once they start coding on a computer, people who are visually impaired can access coding text using a screen reader that converts text into speech or braille.

But Code Jumper can be used by every student in a classroom because it’s a fun, interactive way for students of all abilities to learn together. In fact, it was intended to be used in groups in the classroom, although it can be just as effective as a learning tool when used by one student at a time.

“Computer coding can literally be like a puzzle when you’re trying to figure out how to make things work,” says Braeden Robinson of Kentucky, who will be in the 8th grade in the 2021-22 school year. “Once you get into the harder programs, trying to get everything to work the way you want it to fit together without crashing the program can be a puzzle.”

Putting together the pieces of computer code

Blind since birth, Braeden had been learning computer coding on his own before he was introduced to Code Jumper. His mother, Amanda, says Code Jumper was as helpful to her as it was to him.

“It’s a concrete way for me to see what he’s doing and is so interested in, because I didn’t really understand computer coding before,” she says. “I wish I’d had something like this when I was younger. I can see it being such a great tool even for sighted kids to be able to put together the puzzle and understand how it works.”

Code Jumper comes with a curriculum for teachers. The curriculum development was led by Robin Lowell, who spent 17 years as a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) focused on math and science and is now senior manager of Accessibility for insight2execution (i2e).

She admits that puzzles aren’t part of the curriculum because it’s teacher-driven. So as a next step in the evolution of Code Jumper, Lowell is helping develop puzzle games that let students go beyond the curriculum on their own.

“Puzzles are great because they use so many parts of your learning: there’s problem-solving, there’s failure and then success,” she says. “The idea of the puzzles is that we want a little bit more excitement. We want it to be something kids can really engage with and have opportunities to not only be creative but also have it be something they can relate to.”

Making learning more fun than ever

Although the puzzles are still in development, they feature a character named CJ who is from another planet and wants to learn how things work on Earth. Lowell provides one example of a puzzle students can solve using Code Jumper.

“CJ gets a job at a pizza parlor and you go through this whole activity of building a pizza,” she explains. “You have to build a menu with toppings including everything from mozzarella to gummy worms. You can build the wildest pizza ever on the crust. But everything has a cost, so then you have to do the math to figure out how much that pizza will cost to make.”

There’s even more to it than that – and there will be an entire book of different puzzles that students can do on their own.

“It’s multi-disciplinary with all these areas of learning,” Lowell says. “We have math, we have writing, we have communication with other students – all to build on the curriculum taught by the teacher.”

The puzzle books are scheduled for release in April 1st, 2022. To learn more, visit https://codejumper.com/resources.php.

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