Closing the IT and cybersecurity skills gap with programming games

New board games that teach code through concepts may help narrow the skills gap by making coding fun for all ages

rover control b
ThinkFun

Earlier this month, I wrote about ThinkFun's new programming game series. They generously sent me the set so that I could take a stab at them, and I'll admit I was a little nervous. I'm not a coder.

I've tried to teach myself a little bit about HTML, but I've had only enough success to understand how to correct errors in my blog posts. I enter all my posts into the content management system (CMS) through the "visual" rather than "code" editor. Rarely do I click into the "other side."

Coding intimidates me, but these games—designed for players 8 years old to adults—are actually really fun. My 6-year-old daughter (who received the STEM Barbie for her birthday) joined me in playing Rover Control, the first of the three games.

The game comes with a variety of dry erase boards, or terrains, ranging from beginner to expert. Luckily, the first few terrains have only one rover, so it's pretty easy for a novice like me to get the feel of the concepts. It might've even been easier for my 6 year old to grasp had she been able to read. In her defense, she just finished kindergarten.

My little STEM girl liked it so much that she wanted to take it on our family vacation so that she could play with her cousins, all younger than 8 years old.

I had high hopes, but the two 5 year olds quickly lost interest. STEM girl and her 7-year-old cousin, though, picked up the concepts and stuck around for a few challenges.

Along with the terrains come a challenge book, a set of dry erase markers with instructions on how to set up the board. There is a designated beginning and end point for the rover, which needs to follow a path according to the number and pattern of the color codes in each challenge.

As I attempted to progress through the 40 challenges, things got a little trickier with the addition of checkpoints, decision points, charging stations, data upload stations, loops and another rover.

On top of that, the color-coding instructions for setting up the board were eliminated. STEM girl dropped out after the 5th beginner challenge. Truth be told, I wanted to quit as well. Thank goodness they provided a solution booklet because the intermediate challenges were indeed a struggle.

What first threw me into a tail spin were the checkpoints and loops. When you reach the checkpoints, which increase in number as you progress through the challenges, you have to move through them consecutively. In addition, the rover may "loop" through and repeat the instructions but not necessarily follow the same path on each loop. Yikes!

Can you at all understand why my brain was all twisted up?

The good news, though, is that I haven't given up. Even if I have to check the solutions booklet—which I often do—my literature loving brain is being challenged to grasp new concepts. Who knows what will happen when I make it through the other two games in the series.

Don't be surprised if there comes a day when instead of (or in addition to) writing blog posts, I'll also be writing code.

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