Solving the most common problem in computer science with Glitch
Coders love to joke about “the hardest problem in computer science,” as if identifying this “problem” will somehow make other problems easier to solve or more approachable. In reality, the hardest problems are usually the ones that are made of the most small problems, and the most common small problem is the one that the most people are asking. In computer science education the problem that everyone asks at least once, is, “where do I start?”
For a long time, this was a hard question to answer. Most educators who have worked with students learning to code will recognize the desire to make something with “real code.” While block based coding platforms like Scratch and MakeCode are an excellent way for first time coders to experiment with programming, the colorful code puzzle-pieces can, to some students feel too far abstracted from "real code". These students often want their “hello, world” projects to be accessible to the world. A game that is only available from their Scratch profile, or might require a mouse and keyboard isn’t as easy to show friends and family as a website that works on any device.
We’ve seen this solution in action many times, whether it’s students starting by making a bookmarklet that turns all the images on your screen to french toast, writing an interactive chatbot, or collaborating on the story of a baby sloth fighting zombies.
All of these remixable examples were first published on Mozilla’s Thimble editor, and while we’re sad to see Thimble (and X-Ray Goggles which allowed you to remix any page on the web) go at the end of 2019, we’ve seen Glitch take extraordinary stewardship over the community that Thimble established, and Glitch’s platform checks every item and more from the feature wishlist we had for Thimble.
At the beginning of this school year Mouse moved all of our web coding curriculum on Mouse Create, our design and technology learning platform, to use Glitch! Beyond just welcoming our students into Glitch’s “friendly community where everyone builds the web,” we’re happy to know that this transition means that our students will:
- Be able to work together on the same project at the same time with Glitch’s collaborative editing.
- Be able to “rewind” their project to find something they might have deleted without having to learn the command line and difficult version control software.
- Never have to remember their password, or sign up for an account they will only use once because Glitch supports signing in with email links, Google, Facebook, or GitHub
- Be able to code on whatever device they have available, Glitch works great on phones, tablets and Chromebooks.
- See their work live on the web immediately, Glitch projects are re-published with every keystroke.
- Start with a website that has a few static pages, then add a backend. Glitch supports node.js, and adding backend support to a project is as easy as adding two files to your project.
- Dip their toes in the command line without worrying about installing an OS, software or messing up their computer.
- Embed their project wherever they want, with both the app itself, or the code available.
It’s also great to be incorporating a tool that we use every day at Mouse into our curriculum on Mouse Create. If we need a place to share student pixel art, we do it on Glitch. How much pizza should we order for an event? Check the pizza calculator we built (on Glitch of course). A student at a training isn’t sure how to access the webcam in their OS? We’ve got a photobooth app, built on Glitch.
When we needed to figure out how to replace Mozilla’s X-Ray Goggles tool (also shutting down this year) in our Coding Course, we realized that we could host a version of the app on Glitch, with most of the functionality preserved.
As educators, we’re thrilled to be using such a great platform as a resource in our own curriculum, and as tinkerers, remixers and designers ourselves, we know it’s hard enough to figure out where to start, you shouldn’t have to spend time installing, configuring, and troubleshooting once you decide. At Mouse, we encourage students to just start making - and the interface, features and community on Glitch make coding approachable and fun.