Potatoes, Pirates and... Programming?

Potato Pirates

You may have never used the words “potatoes”, “programming” and “piracy” in the same sentence, but that's about to change.

Remember the times before iPhones and iPads? When we would gather with friends to play sports, enjoy games and or just chill out together? Potato Pirates is trying to bring back that social element for computer science. Doesn't matter if you're a kid, parent or an educator.

Potato Pirates is a game that’s perfect for classrooms, family nights, and even game night with friends over a drink (or ten).

Why Potato Pirates?

There's an obvious increase in students' learning through digital devices. At the same time, we hear complaints from parents and teachers about the adverse effects of screen time and they are craving for offline platforms that are educational yet engaging for kids.

potato pirates no screens attached

Moreover, the challenge with teaching computer science is that many parents did not learn such things in school so when their kids ask them for help, they are quite clueless on how to even guide them. This causes a lack of continuity in a kid’s learning journey and makes it tough to sustain their enthusiasm in coding.

play potato pirates to learn computer science

Computer Science is tough! We know this. It’s been etched into the recesses of our minds. But why though?

Learning to code is like learning a new language — except that this language is built upon cryptic symbols and mathematical jargon! Although there are certain overlaps, it’s not really the same.

Nonetheless, in every language there are certain nuances which require a thorough level of familiarity to grasp. This is what we call syntax — the arrangement of words to make up well-constructed sentences. It’s no different in programming.

 Syntax is also one of the main reasons computational thinking concepts seem abstract and tough to grasp. That’s because most of your effort is spent debugging; trying to find the missing semicolon or parenthesis which is causing your program to crash.

I once spent 6 hours fixing a program that had crashed because I had accidentally uncommented a line. True story.

PYTHON: for i in range(11): print(“The number is %s” %(i))

JAVA: for(int i=0; i<11; i++){ System.out.println(“The number is:”+ i); }

PHP: for ($i = 0; $i <= 10; $i++) { echo "The number is: $i
";}

For non-programmers, these 3 for loops look terrifying. There’s good news though. The logic governing all these statements is universal. All 3 of these statements accomplish the same thing: counting up from 1 to 10.

Wait…Instead of overwhelming people with these alien looking symbols, what if we could just present the underlying, fundamental concept of loops, without all the mumbo jumbo?

Precisely!

Potato Pirates is a secret weapon to tackle these challenges.

Through Potato Pirates, parents get to be involved in their child’s education and it provides them with an engaging medium where they can learn with their child. 

It promotes social interaction among kids and adults while encouraging peer learning. No Wi-Fi, no computers, no electricity — but, you still can learn coding. Totally accessible to all!

 

Potato Pirates removes all syntax and provides a visual reference to these overarching, fundamental concepts. It’s completely language-agnostic. This means anyone can move to any language of their choice after learning to play Potato Pirates.

Potato Pirates is the universal first step into the world of computer science

For anyone who has ever made the effort to learn something new, you’d know that the first step is always the most challenging.

Programming is a very esoteric experience where one only interacts with a machine. And most of the time the machine doesn’t do what you want it to.

Despite having great communities like freeCodeCamp and Stack Overflow, we still end up without having anyone to turn to, especially when we’re just starting out.

With Potato Pirates, we’re trying to make this first step easier by removing computers and introducing social interaction; so that you don’t end up like this guy:

10 hours of programming in 30 minutes? C'mon!

It’s quite miraculous how much content we’ve managed to cover with Potato Pirates by staying clear of syntax. In a regular CS101 setting, there’s no way that you’d cover concepts like nested loops and running loops within a conditional (if-else) statement in your first 30 minutes of class.

We’ve actually had to remove a lot of what we incorporated in previous prototypes of the game. We did not want to cram too many concepts at the expense of game mechanics.

 

Computer Science concepts covered in Potato Pirates

Does it actually work?

This was the big question we asked ourselves while developing the game. We spent almost 18 months perfecting Potato Pirates.

At each stage, the focus was always on:

Testing, testing and more testing

In fact, we wrote a separate Medium article to document our journey and highlight our development strategy. Schools and parents all around the world use Potato Pirates to introduce Computer Science with ease and success. In our Potato Pirates workshops, we put the participants through a short assessment, both before and after playing Potato Pirates to assess how much they had learned. This practice continues till today. 

Here's what our data shows:

Potato Pirates learning outcomes

Two years on, we've now launched our second game, Potato Pirates: Enter The Spudnet to a very warm reception on Kickstarter. Pre-orders for the Kickstarter edition are still open, I'd personally like to recommend the Potato Pirates bundle!

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