TL; DR: Hopscotch Technologies meets kids where they are with a visual coding app designed for iPad and iPhone. Young or beginning programmers can use the coding tool to grasp the fundamentals of coding — and have a good time doing it. With the recent launch of an in-app currency, Hopscotch is not only teaching future application and site-builders to code, but it’s helping them explore the world of software entrepreneurship.
As the mom of a tech-obsessed youngster myself, I know that the struggle to get kids to look at something other than a mobile device is all too real.
But I recognize that all screen time isn’t created equally. Take a quick look through Apple’s App Store, and you’ll see numerous solutions from education-focused software developers that encourage kids to create, learn, and explore.
Parents and educators can even use these apps to foster powerful learning experiences around one of the most in-demand skills — coding. Hopscotch, for example, empowers learners to create real games and apps while absorbing the fundamental coding concepts that bring their creative ideas to life.
“One of the greatest things about Hopscotch is that you’re learning something while having fun,” said Liz Robuck, Senior Product Manager at Hopscotch Technologies. “It’s not time endlessly spent scrolling through social media. You’re developing valuable skills and learning object-oriented concepts that you can extend to any programming language you might learn in the future.”
The drag-and-drop development app doesn’t stop there. Users can share their creations with a fully moderated, kid-friendly community so anyone with an iPhone or iPad can play them. For added inspiration, beginning coders can participate in coding contests within the Hopscotch app designed to spark new ideas and improve skills.
With more than 24 million downloads, 36 million games created by users, and a successful appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Hopscotch is meeting its goal to install confidence in fledgling coders worldwide.
Engaging Visual Programming at Your Fingertips
Hopscotch was founded in 2013 by Jocelyn Leavitt and Samantha John. “Samantha was really good at math and science as a kid but pretty uninterested in computers,” Liz told us. “She thought — like a lot of girls do — that computers were for boys.”
It wasn’t until 2009, when Samantha was in college at Columbia University, that she developed a passion for coding. She joined a club that needed to establish an online presence and, rather than hiring someone for a site-building project that could cost thousands of dollars, took on the task herself.
“She realized how powerful coding is as a skill and felt a strong sense of purpose to share that skill with others,” Liz said.
Samantha was working as a developer in 2012 when she was introduced to Jocelyn at a tech meetup. They began discussing how Apple’s iPad — a relatively new product at the time — had the potential to become the computer of tomorrow. The problem was, users couldn’t leverage the device for coding purposes.
“That was when Samantha and Jocelyn decided to create this super user-friendly visual programming language for mobile devices — which are the devices that kids know best,” Liz said. “The goal was to create something that would appeal to kids of all genders and to make coding something that felt accessible.”
That vision is still going strong to this day.
Merging Art, Science, and Play
In addition to enabling users to create games and animations, Hopscotch allows kids to share their creations and even play games developed by other learners.
The community formed through this collaborative approach is moderated so that parents can feel safe while kids enjoy healthy interaction. The app is also fully compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection (COPPA) rule enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“Our community is an important part of Hopscotch,” Liz said. “It is unique in a lot of ways, including the fact that it is extremely focused on the coding and creative side of programming as opposed to being a glorified social network — which many coding apps are.”
Rather than positioning the app as a social channel, the Hopscotch team concentrates on giving kids the tools they need to create powerful software in an easy-to-use format. “I think we’ve done a good job of staying focused on that mission,” Liz said.
With many children finishing off their school year still learning from home, Hopscotch also offers a much-needed opportunity for kids to gather in a positive way.
“It’s a supportive, collaborative environment,” Liz said. “We see kids who don’t know each other in real life coming together to create some pretty amazing software. We laugh a lot, as a team, because some of the stuff that we create doesn’t compare to what kids create. They make things that could easily compete with software in the App Store — all on their mobile devices.”
Coding is as much of an art as it is a science. Hopscotch offers an excellent way for learners to flex their creative muscles while expressing their personality and ideas through games, apps, and animations.
Users can also nurture their artistic sides by participating in coding contests within the Hopscotch app designed to spark fresh software ideas.
“We just finished our St. Patrick’s Day competition, which helped produce some amazing games on the app,” Liz said.
Backed by Mark Cuban of “Shark Tank”
According to Hopscotch Technologies, Hopscotch is already used on 44% of school iPads in the U.S. To help even more students get in on the action, Hopscotch offers educators free classroom accounts. The company also provides lesson plans for coding in math, science, ELA, and social studies.
Parents can set their kids up with a free week-long trial before upgrading to a yearly or monthly subscription that they can cancel at any time. While the subscription model has been profitable, Samantha recently turned to ABC’s “Shark Tank” for the capital needed to keep evolving the app.
“Samantha was the last presenter on that particular episode, and after she walked onto the stage, Mark Cuban recognized Hopscotch because he’s used it with his kids,” Liz said. “He said to Samantha, ‘I look up to you for what you’ve been able to accomplish.’ It made us feel super proud.”
Mark and Samantha settled on a $550,000 investment for 11% equity, which will work wonders in helping to educate the next generation of app developers and website builders.
“In honor of our ‘Shark Tank,’ appearance, we held a competition where all the kids made ocean-themed games,” Liz said. “That was a really fun one.”
Preparing Kids for Software Entrepreneurship
The Hopscotch team is taking coding education to the next level with the launch of a virtual economy.
“Last year, we released an in-app currency, known as seeds,” Liz told us. “Kids can use it to buy and sell in-game features within the app.”
As part of the rollout, the team launched the Seed Developer Program. If selected, kids receive support, guidance, and mentorship from the Hopscotch team as they create and launch new apps.
“We give them all the skills they need to learn to code, but we also feel it’s important that they understand how to monetize the software they make,” Liz said. “We’re in our third cohort right now, and it’s been cool to see what they’ve been able to make.”