Tickle Makes Learning To Code Fun With Scratch

Tickle Makes Learning To Code Fun With Scratch

There are a lot of games and puzzles now that promise to teach kids how to code, but Tickle stands out. Now on Kickstarter, the iPad app was created in part by Mike Chen, a professor of computer science at U.C. Berkeley.

Its name is a reference to Scratch, the programming language it uses, which educates people about the fundamentals of coding. In the app, kids first learn how to animate Tickle’s characters by putting together building blocks of code.

From there, they can build versions of popular games, before creating original games that can be sold in the App Store, or learning how to program real-life objects like the Philips Hue smart lightbulb or a AR.Drone.

With twenty days to go in its Kickstarter campaign, Tickle has already raised a third of its $30,000 goal. Chen says that the app is already close to its beta release (scheduled for September, which Kickstarter supporters who pledge $125 or more will have access to) and is raising funds so it can be released as a free app on the App Store.

As a professor, Chen says he wanted to create a program like Tickle because he wasn’t satisfied with existing methods of teaching students how to code.

“I teach introduction to computer science and current methods we teach programming with are just not interesting,” he told TechCrunch. “So what I want to do is make programming fun. We want to create lessons based on successful App Store games. We support games like ‘Flappy Bird’ and ‘Angry Bird.’ By having these as an angle for learning programming, we find kids are more interested.”

Tickle differentiates from other programs with its colorful interface and characters. It also keeps kids motivated by showing them what they can produce once they finish a lesson on a programming concept.

“What we wanted to do was start by showing the end product of what you can create and then get kids interested. Then we show them, this is how you build it. We have lessons that break down steps you need to learn in order to build such a game. We enable kids to publish on the App Store, so we have some things that are not supported by a lot of these ‘learn to code’ platforms,” Chen says.


Tickle also uses Scratch to teach kids advanced programming concepts.

“Scratch is a fairly complicated language, and so a lot of the computer science concepts that we teach at university level are covered, like object oriented programming, publish-subscribe patterns, concurrency. The language has fairly high ceilings, so once you learn it, you can produce sophisticated games.”

The app integrates with AirPlay and shows touchpoints (or where kids are touching the screen on their iPads) on the projected image, so parents and teachers can follow along.



Kickstarter link:


Fat Thumb: A One-Handed Alternative To Pinch-To-Zoom

Fat Thumb: A One-Handed Alternative To Pinch-To-Zoom

Apple may be fighting tooth and nail to patent “pinch-to-zoom,” but sometimes I wonder if I’d even miss it if it were gone. The two-handed interaction is great on a tablet but damn annoying on my iPhone, which I almost always hold with one hand and operate with one thumb. “Tap to zoom” is much more elegant and useful, but it only goes one way. If I want to zoom back out and reorient on, say, a Google Map, I’ve got to stop what I’m doing, grip the phone with one hand, and start making little crab motions with the fingers of my other hand.

So I was excited to try Fat Thumb, an experimental iPhone interaction that lets me do everything that pinch-to-zoom does, but with one digit. Fat Thumb senses touch pressure–technically, how much area the pad of your thumb is taking up on the capacitive screen during a press. Using the tip of your thumb (i.e., normal pressure) allows you to pan around an image, just like you normally do. But pressing and “dragging” your thumb invokes a zooming function: up to zoom in, down to zoom out.

“I was getting frustrated with always making sure that I have two hands available to zoom in and out,” says Sebastian Boring, lead author of a research paper about Fat Thumb from the Department of Computer Science at University of Calgary. “One [solution] is, of course, to use physical or visual buttons. However, that always forces people to break out of the interaction. We figured out how to detect the [thumb’s] contact size [on the screen], designed a simple mode switch between panning and zooming a map.”

Fat Thumb’s gesture takes some getting used to, but once I calibrated the app and gave it some practice, I didn’t even have to take my thumb off the screen while fluently maneuvering between pan and zoom modes. The interaction also cannily respects Fitts’s Law: Pressing your thumb into the screen and pushing it back and forth is a much cruder motion than lightly moving the tip around, so it makes sense that the zooming function (which requires a “ballpark” level of accuracy) is mapped to the hard-press gesture. Fat Thumb’s zooming function quickly gets you to the right “altitude level,” at which point you can go back to the more precise, traditional thumb movement to pan and orient the map.

So is it a pinch-to-zoom killer? Not quite. “Fat Thumb was never designed to replace two-handed gestures. In fact, I believe that two-handed gestures are more precise than single-handed ones–at least in our context,” Boring says. Instead, it’s “a fallback solution, with the neat side effect that it does not interfere with existing techniques like the pinch-to-zoom gesture. Crucial interactions such as the simple pan-and-zoom interaction should–in our opinion–at least have such an alternative, as the interaction context could be that we only have one finger available.”

Fat Thumb is only a demo app for research purposes at the moment. Apple took ages just to implement copy-and-paste, so I wouldn’t hold your breath for Fat Thumb-like functionality to make its appearance anytime soon. But the researchers say that they would be “quite happy” “if phone manufacturers add a map application that makes use of the presented technique”–so maybe we’ll see something like it in the next flagship Android device, or even the open-source Ubuntu smartphone.