Edinburgh University’s Thing 21 – a module on online learning and digital games – could not be more relevant at this time. The UK, along with many countries across the world is on lockdown as social distancing becomes the first line of defense against the rapid and unmanageable spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID19. As schools are shut parents like myself are scrambling to get to grips with home schooling while simultaneously juggling our own home workload, so ways to peak kids’ interest – keeping them entertained and educated at the same time are becoming vital.

This is learning by stealth.

The Hour of Code is fantastic free resource to get computer game obsessed kids (and adults) using their screen time for good. We tried the game Code Combat: Escape the Dungeon and let’s just say four hours later my 11 year old is still going strong. That’s four full hours of learning coding, he doesn’t concentrate for four full hours on ANYTHING! You start by typing basic commands to move a character of your choice through a dungeon maze (when I first saw it I thought it was more of an online game than anything else) but the commands grow more complex with every level as you start to learn increasingly complex Python programming language. I’m so impressed by the way Code Combat teaches real coding in an incremental, fun way I’ve signed him up for the premium version. I learned coding in High School and University, so I’ve been able to help him out the couple of times he’s got stuck, but I wonder how long it will take for him to get beyond my level – I suspect not long.

The second site we looked at was GeoGebra. It might just be a case of an old laptop and a huge demand on the internet right now, but we found the site a bit slow and buggy. However, we loved flexing our logic skills completing the puzzles, particularly the Chinese Match ones. At least I’ll know how to keep the family entertained if I’ve got a box of matches to hand and the power goes out. I guess as the site is open source, the content can vary greatly, but from what I saw it’s probably best suited to older kids and adults. I found this puzzle infuriating. Can they fit? Well can they? The site doesn’t tell you. Please comment below if you know!

The last site was the National Museums of Scotland online games. These games are quite short and simple and more overtly educational – which you would expect from a museum trying to teach you about stuff. The Dress a Pict game would have been more fun if you had more “wrong” clothing choices you could have dressed them up in; and the Plane Builder had my son clicking to infuriation trying to find the right combination of body, wings and engine. We found a common theme through all the games that we tried was lack of flexibility – it would have been better if they allowed you to create the obvious right answer AND make creative combinations to solve the problems, or just do more with the wrong answers for fun. Still, it’s a great free way to enhance kids’ learning on a particular topic.

There are loads of sites for online learning and we look forward to discovering more of them in the coming weeks. It has been so impressive how teachers have managed to communicate with their class and set daily tasks through Microsoft Teams to keep their learning consistent; how parents are sharing online resources for home schooling to help each other out; and how the kids are communicating with each other through Whatsapp to keep their social life alive too. This is a welcome tonic to the dark news of deaths, selfish panic buying and idiots stealing hand gels from hospital wards.

It’s challenging times, but I hope the overarching lessons of self disciple to work or study and resilience to cope with major change will last us all for years after the virus has become a distant memory. Be kind, stay well and stay at home.

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