Lightbot App Review: A Great App for First Steps in Coding

One app that we use frequently in our Coding Foundations class at Coder Kids is one called Lightbot. Lightbot is a paid app on the iPad and other tablets, and it also has limited functionality as a web game. I will include links below where you can download it if you would like! We start our students on LightbotJr, then they progress to Lightbot, which is typically challenging enough for kids of all ages (and adults!).

When developing skills to be a computer programmer, it pays to practice syntax, build projects like games and animations, and learn the technical terminology and concepts. It is also important to learn how to look things up - many programmers use websites like Stack Overflow to get answers to questions. But Lightbot and our coding foundations classes are focused on two primary skills: Logic and Patience.

What is logic?

Logic, on a very simple level, is the ability to add structure and arrangement to an otherwise chaotic task. In your car you can go from Point A to Point B in a straight line, or you can drive around for 40 minutes in circles before you get there. The structure matters - getting to your goal destination quickly and in the least steps possible is important.

How does Lightbot teach logic?

lightbot example

Take this puzzle for example.

The student could spin around in circles or stand still and turn the light on and off. As a matter of fact, some students like to play around with the commands and make the robot do something silly. But over time, the child should start to realize that the real fun in the game in achieving the goal, which is to light up the blue tile.

Some structure in the game is added for you (the fact that there are blocks in the first place). But the student is left to determine the best structure or pattern for adding those blocks in sequence. Eventually the chaos that existed in the fun structure-free environment turns into a set of instructions for the robot, and the goal is achieved.

We will do logic activities often in our Coding Foundations class, because the process I explained above applies heavily to Scratch and all of computer programming. You start with a blank canvas in many situations (or someone else’s messed up code in others), and you have to take that chaos and make sense of it, add structure to it, until ultimately, you have achieved your goal.

Why is patience required for coding?

We all start with dreams of what we can create with coding. As a professional, it might be something that is required of you by your work. As a child, it might be a cool new game that you want to make. Either way, both professionals and kids sometimes get turned off by how intricate software development can be. For a professional, this might lead to burnout and quitting. For a child, this can lead to simply giving up.

It is important to encourage your child to not give up when the going is tough. Equally important is for your child to learn the lesson for themselves that they can do hard things, that they can overcome frustrations. LightbotJr is a great app to practice with, because there is nothing on the line. Students don’t get a grade or have a deadline. It is just for the joy of learning the logic.

How does Lightbot teach patience?

In Lightbot, students are not going to get the answers right the first time. I have seen hundreds of students who blow through the first 5 or 6 puzzles and think they are all-stars. But everyone will get stuck at some point. Honestly, even adults (self-included) get stuck at some point.

In those times, it is important to slow down your thinking, approach things from a new angle, and not give up. It is very easy to give up on these challenges, but finding that flow-state and focusing on a solution will pay dividends as kids move on to Scratch and other languages. It all starts with the patience to overcome hurdles that seem daunting.


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