This week we have interviewed Nick Winter, the co-founder of CodeCombat, which goal is to bring computer science to every kid in the world.
1- Describe CodeCombat in under 50 words.
CodeCombat is a programming game for learning how to code. We offer a complete computer science class for grades 3-12 so that teachers with no prior programming experience can provide advanced computer science learning opportunities to all students.
2- What made you decide to start working/building on CodeCombat?
My cofounders and I previously created Skritter, which is now the #1 app for learning to write Chinese and Japanese characters.
From that, we learned how to make software teach really hard things–we made a hardcore learning tool for serious learners. But what we found was it was super engaging because of a few game-like features we included–that’s what got our learners addicted. So when we went on to tackle coding education, we said, well, what if we made the whole thing a game? Let’s make a programming game where you play the game by writing real code. And let’s make it open source, since our users will become developers.
It got posted on reddit and it exploded–it became the second-fastest-growing open source project of all time, with 500 contributors around the world.
Everyone wanted programming to be less boring, like a lesson, and more fun: a real game. So everyone from 7-year-old girls to professional software engineers were playing it, it was really cool. It turns out that learning programming is not hard.
Learning Chinese is hard! Learning coding? That’s a basic skill. We want everyone to have it.
Let’s make a programming game where you play the game by writing real code.
3- What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Keeping up with inbound sales demand from schools and districts wanting to use CodeCombat. 😉
4- Where do you see CodeCombat in 5 years time?
We are on the cusp of a revolution in computer science education where nearly all students will soon have the opportunity to take computer science classes.
With traditional computer science instruction, they would have lessons, and it would work about as well as it ever has. Listening to lessons is not enough. With CodeCombat, students have a real conversation with the computer. They learn coding like learning a language.
They build real fluency. And in a world where every professional programmer today has had to learn coding as a second language, our students will learn it as a first language.They will be native speakers of code.
5- Can you convince the reader to start using CodeCombat in under 50 words?
Wanna learn to code? You don’t need lessons. You need to write a lot of code and have a great time doing it. It’s gotta be fun. Not fun like ‘yay a badge,’ but fun like ‘NO MOM I GOTTA FINISH THE LEVEL!’ Try it!
6- What are you most excited about at the moment?
Launching the shareable games track in CodeCombat, where some levels you’ll be coding up real games that you can share with your friends, using the same programming concepts that you’re learning in the main game levels.
7- What teachers tell you about CodeCombat?
“My girls, who were apprehensive about taking an introduction to coding class, are some of my top students. They work together and explain the code to each other to make sure each understands. When they told me that it wasn’t as hard as they thought it was going to be, I knew I had them.” – Darlease Montiero, Technology Coordinator, Global Learning Charter Public School –.
“I recently used CodeCombat to set up a basic programming course to teach underprivileged high school students in South Africa. The kids adored the course and it started them on a path to learn programming properly. This is an invaluable resource.” – Jemma Chait, Leveling the Playing Field, 10th Grade -.
8- Do you have any anecdote?
We were playtesting CodeCombat in a chaotic, typically unmotivated classroom crammed full of 6th-graders in a disadvantaged public school.
The teacher had obviously given up any hope of reaching these kids and was just trying to get through each day with minimal bloodshed. One kid was obviously the class troublemaker and fancied himself a gangster, talking smack all the time and being as unruly as possible.
By the end of the class, though, he was hooked, and he was the first to volunteer his answer to “What did you learn to do today in CodeCombat?”: “On level seven, the one where the three ogres try ’n jump me! But I opened up on ‘em!… with mah sword.”
9- What are your thoughts on the future of education technology?
There’s this famous problem in education called Bloom’s Two Sigma problem, where one-on-one tutoring, with personalization of path and pacing, outperforms traditional oneto- many instruction by two standard deviations.
That is, 95% of kids with one-on-one tutoring do better than kids where one teacher is trying to teach many students. This has been known across every discipline since the 80s, and yet no one has been able to come up with teaching methods that really scale to the full two sigma result.
What I’m really excited about is how educational software is finally getting good enough to match (and surpass) the effectiveness of the one-on-one tutor, since real personalization of both pacing and path can be built into sufficiently sophisticated edtech products. On top of that, the feedback loop can be even tighter with software, and when put into game-based learning environments, all students do significantly better with motivation and developing a growth mindset. Plus, for software that is teaching computer science, we can go far beyond the effectiveness of a human teacher, since you don’t actually want a human in the middle of the feedback loop between the student and the computer–you want direct communication with the machine through code.