Game Explores, Encourages the Creative Side of Coding

A common assumption is that writing computer code is a highly technical skill for people who are good at math and logic, but software engineers say another quality is just as important: creativity.

A group of software developers in Palo Alto, California, has created a game called Osmo Coding Jam to unlock the creative side of children as they learn to code.

Nine-year-old Dylan Dodge and his 11-year-old sister, Meghan, look as though they are playing a game on a digital tablet, but they’re actually making music by creating simple computer code as they manipulate physical tiles with symbols. The tablet reads the tile symbols as commands it can execute.

“It’s an analytical skill that the kids are going to need to have as they grow up in this new era,” said Tanya Dodge, Dylan and Meghan’s mother.

But the developers of Osmo Coding Jam said writing code should be more than just an analytical skill.

“We want to explore the creative side of coding that I think is often not as explored,” said Osmo engineer, Felix Hu.

“It (the game) kind of actually looks to LEGO® as a great example of things that kids like to build with, and so in this case instead of building a house or a castle, they’re building lines of code,” said Coding Jam art director and visual artist Eric Uchalik.

And that code produces something artistic — music.

“A big part of the way that technology is changing and becoming more engaging is because, I think, we’re adding that artistic piece to it. That it’s not just code and pressing buttons but the experience of it, and you can’t successfully do that in my opinion without having a connection to that artistic piece,” Tanya Dodge said.

Developers said coding should be seen as a creative tool. Code was used to create Osmo’s Coding Jam, and children use the game’s coding tiles to create music.

“I think the coolest part is that we’re teaching kids how to be creative with code and that’s a really important thing that kids should get comfortable with because coding is creative,” Hu said. He sees a growing trend of parents considering software code as a second language that children need to learn to succeed in future jobs.

“I think in every aspect of at least the careers I see going forward, you’re going to have to understand at some point the concept of coding,” Tanya Dodge said.

Hu explained there is another reason computer code literacy is important.

“I think very often kids grow up not understanding how computers work or just thinking that it’s like some magical device, but by breaking it down to a lower level, kids can understand that devices aren’t as smart as they think they are.”

“We don’t want to create just workers, we want to create creators,” Uchalik added.

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