Hopscotch is a new app designed to allow kids to code on an iPad. It is an absolutely fantastic introductory program, although at this stage it is just that – introductory.
In many ways Hopscotch is a simplified version of Scratch with some additional controls for the iPad – you can, for example, make something react to the tilt sensor. Like Scratch, you create a program by dragging jigsaw-like pieces arrayed on the side of the screen into an active area. Modify the details such as distance or duration and you’re good to go. The implementation is clean and simple and seems to work perfectly within the limitations the creators have currently set themselves.
It’s those limitations, though, which mean that even slightly older kids, or those with a bit of experience with programming, will soon be looking to move on to something more sophisticated. So, for example, there are no variables or interaction between objects. There are only set random number ranges to pick from and no negative random numbers. You can only repeat an action, or loop, a set number of times not infinitely. The creators are aware of this and clearly have plans to make Hopscotch more sophisticated as time goes by, saying
The next release, coming out in the next couple of weeks, will allow you to edit the random numbers. It will also have a sound event, such that you can program a script to run based on when you make a loud noise near the iPad. We have many, many more things planned for the future–the most preliminary are adding if/then statements, variables, operators and booleans, as well as a number of additional methods. So, yes, we intend for Hopscotch to become quite robust.
Although there are limitations, Hopscotch works wonderfully within them. It is colorful, it is easy to use on a touch-screen environment. The creators have done a great job of using tabs to organise different objects. I love the fact the programming page puts a grid background in place which then goes away when you run the program – Scratch should copy that idea.
All in all I heartily applaud Hopscotch and would recommend it as a great way to introduce kids to programming. Right now it sits on the lower slopes of a mountain that leads up to Scratch and then on to more hardcore computer languages. That’s in no way a bad place to be - especially as it’s the only thing that sits in that position on the iPad. And it’s the first such app I’ve seen that properly takes advantage of the iPad’s range of interactive features (touchscreen, tilt sensor, etc).
So if your child has had a go on Hopscotch and likes what she has done, where do you go from there? Scratch wont work on the iPad; even though there is now a browser version available (worth a look on a computer). There is, however, the excellent reimplementation of Scratch that is Snap! Snap! will work perfectly an iPad, or other device, although it isn’t optimized for the iPad features.
Anyway, if you’re starting out Hopscotch a great place to begin. It is free on iTunes – so get it and have a play.