Hopscotch App Aims To Get Both Girls And Boys Interested In Programming

Learning to program can sound like a daunting task even for well-educated adults, much less a kid. But the makers of Hopscotch think it’s easy enough for an eight-year-old, given the right interface.

Hopscotch is the first iPad app designed to teach kids how to code. The free app lets budding programmers plan and code their own projects. The beta version of the app launched in Apple's App Store Tuesday.

Hopscotch Uses Blocks For The Basics

“It teaches kids the fundamental components of programming languages, like branching logic, if/then statements, and variables,” said cofounder Jocelyn Leavitt. “The ideas kids are going to learn using Hopscotch can be used later in other languages like Ruby or Python.”

Hopscotch takes complex programming concepts and converts them into colorful blocks, which kids can string into sentences in order to write programs. It’s an open sandbox that’s up to the user’s imagination. Kid testers have come up with games, animations, greeting cards and even a random art generator.

“It’s very empowering,” said Leavitt. “One of the things that gets lost in the conversation about learning to code is that it’s actually very satisfying. Kids get to think of anything they want to make, have a plan and actually make it happen.”

A Serious Programming Tool?

Don’t let the kid-friendly colors and shapes fool you. Eventually, said Leavitt, Hopscotch will be “Turing complete.” That is, it’ll be a full-scale programming language that could, given enough time and storage space, execute any computational routine that any other language would be able to handle.

Leavitt said a major inspiration for Hopscotch is Scratch, a browser-based programming language dreamed up by the MIT Media Lab. Hopscotch takes the block system Scratch started with and converts it to a touch-screen format.

“Kids really love the iPad,” said Leavitt. “It was the most requested holiday gift in 2012. I feel like in some ways it’s really alluring to have a product that fits on a mobile device.”

You Go (Program), Girl

For Leavitt and her cofounder, Samantha John, another mission of Hopscotch is to get girls into programming early. Though they both work in the tech industry now, Leavitt and John didn’t consider programming as a career until after college.

“In the tech world we’re constantly getting asked, ‘Why aren’t there more women in tech?’ I think it’s because women don’t get exposed to tech early on,” Leavitt said.

“When I went to my family’s Hannukah party and the kids unwrapped their presents, the boys got mainly engineering toys and the girls got pink stuff. It tore my heart. I remember saying to Sam, ‘I wish there were some kind of awesome toy the parents could’ve gotten for the girls that would have exposed them to engineering just as much.’”

Ideally, said Leavitt, Hopscotch will fill that void. They’ve worked hard to make Hopscotch unisex, scrapping its original graphics for being too “boyish.”

“My favorite story about Hopscotch is when I took it to a classroom, showed it to boys and girls, and asked if they thought it was designed for boys, girls, or both. A boy said, ‘I think it’s universal,’ and a girl said ‘I think it’s for girls.’ That’s exactly what we’re going for.”