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June 24, 2012 / carlispina

Program Visually with Google Blockly

I’ve previously written about Scratch as a tool for teaching children (and others) to program, but Scratch is primarily designed to teach users the concepts of programming logic  rather than to teach users an actual programming language. Google has decided to take the concept at the heart of Scratch one step further and use it to help beginners to learn both computer logic and several programming languages while simultaneously creating working computer programs.

As with Scratch, Blockly relies on blocks that represent code. Users can drag these blocks onto their workspace and then arrange them into programs. Each block states its purpose in words on its surface and the pieces have different shapes depending on their functions which gives users a visual cue about where the block will work. Blocks will only fit together with pieces that will functionally work with them, which helps users to learn programming logic and syntax by using Blockly.

All of this may sound very similar to Scratch, but Blockly has an additional feature that really distinguishes it as a programming and learning tool. For each program that users create, they can then view the code that would be necessary for this program to work in JavaScript, Dart, Python and XML in separate tabs. This makes it easy for users to see how the logic would be represented in any of these languages, which is a great way for users to learn the syntax of these languages, whether they are brand new to programming or already know one of the languages and want to leverage that knowledge to learn one of the other languages.

Blockly will never replace standard computer programming, and isn’t intended to, but it is a useful tool for those who are just getting started. Currently, Blockly includes a maze program designed to help users to get the feel for the interface. I think this is a great option for students who might feel that they are too old for Scratch and for those who have already mastered building games and programs with Scratch and want to move on to more advanced topics. Educators will undoubtedly love the option to add this to their list of tools for teaching computer programming.

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