Ballyland Code 1: Say Hello (iOS app)

Ballyland Code 1: Say Hello is a fully accessible iOS app that teaches beginning coding logic skills geared for young children! Coding logic is a skill set that students can use not only for a future career in programming but also improves perseverance and problem-solving skills. For students with visual impairments, coding logic can also improve spatial concepts and mental mapping skills - critical skills for math and for orientation and mobility. Beginning coding games typically start with objects and move to digital skills. There are numerous beginning coding game apps available for very young children; however, these apps are typically very visual and are not accessible for students who are visually impaired.

Tutorial Game

Students begin with the Tutorial game; this game will guide the student through the steps of playing the game. Use a right swipe to navigate to each question and then a down swipe to hear the options. The student chooses which character, what the character will do, how many times he will do it, and what to do last.

Screenshot of Ballyland Code, Tutorial page: List of questions with the first two options selected: "Wheelie" and "crash into the bin".

Once the student makes his selections, double tap to run the code. The game will play auditory clips that represent the student's choices (code). The student can chose to repeat the activity as many times as he wants, choosing different characters and scenarios. When ready to leave the tutorial page, double tap in the bottom right corner. The tutorial focuses on the "coding" concepts, navigating through the questions and selecting an option. Spatial concepts and mental mapping are not included in this activity.

Tactile Grid

Prior to introducing the Challenges, create a tactile model of a 3 x 3 grid, and use objects to represent Wheelie, Tinkerball, pond and rubbish bin. Print your own grid, characters and objects using the 3D printer files available through the Sonokids' website. You can create your own grid using available materials such as Wikki Styks, a small car (Wheelie), small ball (Tinkleball), block (rubbish bin) and circular object such as a water bottle cap (pond). Be sure that the car model has a definite 'front' as Wheelie can only move forward. Create the grid. Discuss rows and columns and label each row and column. Listen to the instructions for Challenge 1. Ask the student to listen to the instructions and then place Wheelie in the appropriate place (row 1, column 1). Ask the student to drag his finger around the screen to find Tinkleball, the pond and the rubbish bin. When an item is found on the screen, place the item in the corresponding row/column in the tactile grid. When all the objects are placed correctly, ask the child to plan Wheelie's route to Tinkleball. Wheelie can move forward, turn right or say hello.

Challenge Games

There are three game challenges. Choose a level; the directions are announced along with the grid (3 x 3) and that Wheelie is in row 1, column 1. A right flick starts the game. The student is encouraged to drag his finger around the screen to find Tinkleball, the pond and rubbish bin. Note: The student should slowly drag his finger across the screen; encourage the student to be systematic when searching for the objects and to drag in a straight line across or down the screen. When the student has found Tinkleball and has planned his route, double tap on the screen to bring up the coding menu. Right swipe to move through the questions; swipe down to hear the option for each question. Stop on the desired option; this option will automatically be used. The student can run the code at any time; double tap will run the code. If the code moves Wheelie into the pond, rubbish bin or hedge (edge of the screen), Wheelie will crash and will not be able to move forward in that direction. A song will be played when the code is completed and runs correctly.

Screenshot of Ballyland Code displaying Challenge 2; Wheelie is in row 1, column 1. Tinkerbell is in row 3, column 3.

Students with vision also enjoy playing the game; turn the the Black Curtain on in the game's settings to level the playing field! This turns the screen dark, encouraging students with vision or with low vision to listen and to develop mental maps.

Gestures

Ballyland Code uses these gestures to play the games:

  • Drag
  • Flick right/left
  • Flick up/down
  • Double tap

Accessibility

The game is self-voicing and requires that VoiceOver is turned OFF. The initial screen is accessible with VoiceOver. Self-voicing should be turned ON from the first page.

Additional Ballyland Games

Sonokids, the developer of the Ballyland apps, creates fun learning apps that develop essential digital skills for young students who are visually impaired or blind. Additional Ballyland Apps:

Hour of Code

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students is designed to show students that anyone can learn how to code and to encourage students to consider the field of computer science. Learn more about the Hour of Code and about accessible coding here. Ballyland Code can be used with all young students - including students with visual impairments - as an Hour of Code activity. The Hour of Code Computer Science week is typically the first week in December. (The Hour of Code can be held at anytime; the official week this year is Dec. 3-9, 2018.)

Digital Transitions

Digital Transitions refers to 21st Century classrooms which are or are becoming paperless classrooms. Digital materials is a game changer for students with visual impairments, as mainstream materials - when created correctly - are instantly accessible for ALL students. The first step in constructing a successful digital transition is building awareness of accessibility needs and how to create digital materials in an accessible format.

Students with visual impairments are learning unique skills to help them access and understand spatial concepts required for many math and STEM materials presented in a digital format. When teaching spatial concepts, best practice is to use tactile materials to intially teach the concept. Combining tactual and digital activities will enable students to fully grasp spatial concepts when transition from tactile models to digital materials. Age-appropriate digital spatial concepts should be introduced early - as the concept is initially introduced. Example: Kindergarten and first grade students are introduced to simple tables and grids. Apps such as Ballyland Sound Memory - a simple matching iOS game - incorporates digital grid concepts as it names the spatial location by announcing row and column numbers.

Ballyland Code encourages the use of 3D printed materials that accompany the digital game and suggestions on using materials such as Wikki Styks, toy car, and objects to create a simple tactile representation of the game. These tactile models help students to build mental models of the digital game board. Screen readers such as JAWS and VoiceOver require additional tech skills in order to access digital materials. Screen readers should introduce the grid layout and name the row and column headers; Sonokids has incorporated these standard screen reader responses into their Ballyland apps. Young students now have opportunities to learn about and use standard screen reader features in early educational games.

Learn more about Digital Transitions for students with visual impairments here.

Conclusion

Ballyland Code is an innovated app that enables students with visual impairments and blindness learn beginning coding skills along with their sighted peers. This wonderful app has been carefully crafted to introduce and reinforce not only coding logic but also math skills and orientation and mobility skills. Students with visual impairments and blindness are able to practice VoiceOver gestures, are introduced to how a screen reader announces digital grids, and are given opportunities to navigate these grids. This app helps bridge the gap between traditional tactile grids to digital grids and mental mapping skills. Ballyland Code has broken down advanced tech skills and has made it possible for students to be introduced to these foundational skills at a very young age. Best of all, this gamification app is FUN!

Collage of Ballyland Code

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