Posted by Jeremy on February 6, 2018 at 06:30 PM CST
Newfrom DK, Star Wars Coding Projects is a easy-to-use Scratch programming guide that is suited for children wanting to code in a Star Wars environment as well as parents who want to keep abreast of their child's education.
"Star Wars Coding Projects is a step-by-step visual guide to designing and coding in Scratch. The setting is as big as your imagination. Your favorite Star Wars characters will guide you through fun projects, animations, and games as you learn how to create and code. Draw your own Star Wars inspired sprites to use in the projects. You're the director as you navigate the spaceship you've designed through the asteroid belt you imagined as you go on the jetpack adventures you brought to life. Learn essential coding skills, share the sprites you drew with friends, and even challenge your pals to beat your high scores in the games you designed. Each project lists the sprites you'll have fun creating through simple, numbered steps that are fully illustrated and easy to follow. Coding games have never been so fun, with Star Wars characters to guide you."
If you aren't familiar with Scratch, it's a simplistic visual programming language, developed by MIT, that uses pre-designed script objects. Freely available and translated into more than 70 languages, it is used by school children around the world to develop creative thinking, systematic reasoning, group working and, of course, programming skills.
But before I begin this review I want everyone who remembers Droid Works by Lucasfilm to unremember it, because the only connection between it and DK's Star Wars Coding Projects book is that they both use a computer. That's it. The book is written by a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon. No, not really but the two authors do omce close to fulfilling this trope. Dr. Jon Woodcock has a degree in Physics from the University of Oxford and a PhD in Computational Astrophysics from the University, and Kiki Prottsman is Education Program Manager at Code.org and a former computer science instructor at the University of Oregon. Both have been involved with the Scratch programming language for a number of years and have each produced a number of coding books with DK.
In itself the book is a great place to go from zero Scratch experience to a true Scratch Master by following the step-by-step guide. It's a little by the numbers and though the book is aimed at kids the language inside is such that an adult wouldn't feel condescended to, and could pick up some Scratch skillsalongside their child. The six projects within get progressively harder, with more complex tasks in each section. Don't fear though because the book will take you through each task, with full explanations of the what and why of each code snippet.
One criticism that Son of LEGOscum had was that the images needed for the Build-A-Droid project weren't publically available. Since they were required - there's no getting around it - he though that DK should have developed a small graphics library. "Afterall," he said, "they did the pictures for the book - why couldn't they share those?" It fell to me to chop and crop some images from the Kenner gallery in our photo archive, so this project became a real bottleneck for his progress through the book.
Sadly, without a dedicated image gallery, the end results looked more like the coding projects that Son of LEGOscum could produce at school, where he does Scratch as part of the curriculum already, rather than something that looked like the book depicted. Even at his skill level it's like expecting him to bring home a page from a colouring book with all the colours inside the lines, but actually finding out your putting some finger painting with a few pieces of macaroni glued on up on the fridge door.
Due to this this Son of LEGOscums enthusiasm for the book petered out and he didn't progress passed Jetpack Adventures. No amount of cajoling him could get him back to the book and with the school holidays waning he knew he'd be Scratch coding in his classroom soon enough anyway.
The final verdict on Star Wars Coding Projects is that it's a book with great potential but sets it self up with lofty expectations: there's no doubting that it can teach a child with no Scratch knowledge to become an confident coder, but the requirement to create the graphics needed to produced the level of Star Wars-iness depicted in the book is out of scale with most children's digital painting skills. It's a real shame that DK didn't make Jon Hall's graphics, which bring the book to life, available to readers so they could have colourful pixels in their games.