Think Like A Coder
Written by Sue Gee
Saturday, 05 October 2019

TED-Ed has a new resource to interest kids in coding. It's an animated story, the first episode of which lasts less than seven minutes and introduces for, next, and while loops.

According to its description Think Like a Coder has 10 episodes and tells the story of  Ethic, a teenage girl, and her companion, the hovering robot Hedge, as they attempt to save the world. Its format sounds familiar enough:

The two embark on a quest to collect three artifacts and must solve their way through a series of programming puzzles.

The adventure starts when Ethic awakens in a stasis chamber,  presumably somewhere in space. She has lost her memory - so there is no background story - but she is in a mysterious cell and there's an intruder trying to squeeze through the ventilation hatch.  Far from being a threat, Hedge has arrived to help her and the first step is to pick locks to escape from prison - and this is where writing pseudo code to program Hedge to try all the possible tumbler combinations comes into play.

As you can see, the video is colorful and is accompanied by equally upbeat music to appeal to a young audience. However most of the video isn't the adventure, instead it is the explanation of how loops allow you to reduce a large number of repetitive steps, such as those required to test lock combinations, to a small number of instructions and the viewer is challenged to think through how to write the code.

The TED-Ed site has supplementary materials including  the transcript of the video in English and Turkish, and explains the educational goal of the episode:

The goal is to program a lock pick to pass through any door with a certain type of lock. The locks each have a tumbler that can be set to any of 100 positions. The lock pick can be programmed with only the simplest kind of code, which basically gives a command to set this tumbler to n, then move to the next tumbler, then set that to some function of n, and loop over and over.

How do you program your lock pick to cycle through every possible position of tumblers?

There's also a clue that TED-Ed doesn't necessarily see kids aged 8 to 14 as its primary audience - although they are envisaged as the end users. Members of the TED-Ed site, which is free to join  can base their own lessons around the animations its regularly produces.

Given how coding is increasingly making its way into the classroom the Think Like a Coder series looks to be a very attractive resource - although in a week it has had only 29 Lesson Customisations compared to almost 200K views. This number must include kids who have stumbled across it without classroom supervision but its difficult to know what their reaction is.

Episode 2 is expected in October and it is to be hoped the rest follows quicky. Ten episodes of thie same sort of length would make this a useful resource for the Hour of Code, taking place this year in the week December 9 -15.

Lesson 1 on TED-Ed

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