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Teaching Kids to Code Through Hopscotch!


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We spoke with Hopscotch’s Samantha John to learn a bit more about her and her co-founder, Jocelyn Leavitt’s awesome, intuitive app that teaches kids how to code. By using the visual, programming language, kids can create and build their own games, animations, and programs. Inspired by MIT’s Scratch, John and Leavitt wanted to create a program that was friendlier and open to anyone.

Who inspires you?

Alan Kay and Seymour Papert. Papert wrote one of the first programming languages called Logo.

Why are you an entrepreneur?

There’s a history of entrepreneurs in my family – My dad has his own business.  I’ve worked at regular jobs for other people before, and wasn’t a very good employee. I do better when I’m self-motivated and working for myself, which has to do with my upbringing—no one in my family was much of any employee either.

Why was Hopscotch created?

It’s a programming language for all kids but we wanted it to be more appealing for girls. At engineering school, the lack of women in these fields was evident and I have always wanted to address that. When I got an iPad I thought it was really awesome and I was excited about developing a program. It started as a side project two years ago, while Jocelyn and I were working at other places. It started as Daisy the Dinosaur, which was all in html5 and it’s in the app store for the iPad.

At this point I was a Ruby on Rails developer but I didn’t really know iOS programming. Daisy used JavaScript and html5 for people to get the dinosaur to do different things to get through the challenges. We wanted to see what would be challenging enough, but when we realized that kids couldn’t find the letter z on the keyboard, we realized we needed to build a visual programming language from the beginning so that’s what led us to create Hopscotch. We also just hired a fantastic curriculum person, who will work to give teachers a curriculum for Hopscotch.

Why do you think it’s important for girls to learn how to code?

I think it’s important for everyone to learn how to code, but it’s particularly important for girls because they are more underserved. The people who write the curriculum are typically more often men and the content is gendered with things such as robots, fighting, etc. If you think about where the world is and how everyone is using technology in their everyday lives, people are going to need to be able to use it better and communicate through software and code. People are going to have to become literate in coding like they are in reading and writing. I don’t think that every kid needs to learn to be a programmer but there are tons of programming jobs that need to be filled, and in order to compete for those jobs people need to learn the language.

How is Hopscotch different from its competitors?

Hopscotch is a visual programming language and we’re the only visual programming language on the iPad. When someone uses an iPad it’s very much interactive because touch is the main method for interaction. Whereas on a computer, the individual needs to type, drag, and drop more—it feels very tedious. We’re very much inspired by Scratch at MIT. I think they did a really great job of figuring it out but they’re also very much an academic project, and not very commercialized. Scratch 2 has been great, but we really want Hopscotch to be friendly, and open to anyone.

What are some of Hopscotch’s upcoming goals?

We’re focusing on a couple of things right now including creating a community around the app—so kids can collaborate and share their projects, so they can browse what others are doing. Our second set goal is an idea we have called kits. It’s an analogy we use from Lego kits where we want to give someone a kit to make the Frogger game or the 4th of July fireworks game. It’s all about we give you this idea—the art, assets, sounds, and you create the product.

How was Hopscotch funded during the early stage?

We bootstrapped.

Favorite mobile app?

Vesper. Jocelyn uses Evernote often.

What do you do to help focus?

I use Mailbox a lot and Jocelyn just got this new app that logs how much time she focuses on everything she does. I also think saying no to things is really important. And we’re trying to do more of that—as an entrepreneur there’s always new opportunities coming up but you just don’t have time to do them all.

Was there a moment that made you realize, “I want to do this”?

When I decided to quit my job. We all decided to coordinate a two week vacation to work on Hopscotch and when I realized how much I could get done working full time, I asked myself, “what am I doing working for other people?” I put in my notice the next day.

Any advice for entrepreneurs who are trying to get their venture launched?

It’s going to take longer than you think. I really recommend applying to things like contests, grants, and incubators—all of those things force you to think about your business when you go to fill out applications and interview.

If you could go back in time, what would you have told your 16 year-old-awesome, techie self?

I wasn’t a techie at that age and I didn’t think I would like it. I would have told myself to major in computer science and get a Mac.

Get in touch with the Hopscotch team you can find them on Twitter @hopscotch.

Raine Dalton is WIM’s editorial and community innovation intern. Raine is passionate about finding creative ways to empower women globally through tech. In addition to WIM, Raine has written, tweeted, and posted for the Global Banking Alliance for Women, WITNESS, and 90.7 WFUV News. You can find her work at her website  or get in touch with her through Twitter.

Reprinted by permission.

 

 

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About the author: Women Innovate Mobile

Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) is the first startup accelerator focused exclusively on launching and accelerating the growth of women-founded companies in mobile technology. Through its network of mobile experts, mentors and investors, WIM provides women entrepreneurs with the tools, feedback and connections needed to launch and scale their mobile ventures.

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