Hedy – Making textual programming easier and more fun

By Ramon Moorlag, computer science teacher in the Netherlands, @Hedycode

Moving from a block-base language like Scratch to a text-based programming language like Python can be a huge leap for children. That’s why Felienne Hermans created Hedy, a language that gradually introduces the rules of syntax to young coders.

Block-based languages like Scratch are a great way to help students take their first steps in programming, because they do not have syntax, a precise way in which commands have to be formulated. In block-based languages, the syntax is integrated in the blocks, so students can just drag blocks and create programs that work straight away.

Blocks are certainly great, but at a certain age, children start to feel that blocks are toylike, and they want to learn textual languages like Python or JavaScript, because they see them as more mature, more powerful and more real.

Textual languages however can be hard to get into initially. Something relatively simple like counting to 10 requires a child to type:

for i in range(1,11):

Make one mistake like forgetting a closing bracket causes Python to crash, and I found that even while kids were motivated to learn textual languages, this can cause frustration. Recent research on university level students learning programming showed that even good students make syntax errors in 50% of programs. Knowing that, it is not surprising our middle schoolers have trouble getting their Python programs to work correctly. I knew I had to come up with a better solution for them.

When we teach natural languages like English, we do that gradually: teachers slowly add complexity. Inspired by the way language is taught in elementary school, I created Hedy: a gradual programming language.

Hedy consists of a number of levels, each with a few new commands. In the first level, for example, you can simple print something to the screen with print:

print hello everyone!

Repeating something can be done with a repeat

repeat 4 times print ‘Hello’

Hedy is available for free at hedycode.com and can be used in the browser, like Scratch. Currently, Hedy has thirteen levels available, each level with new commands and lesson materials with instructions and assignments built in, in seven languages (Dutch, English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portugese). Each level represents a lesson of about 45 minutes. Children can optionally login and save their programs.

Want to see Hedy in action?

We are excited to see what young people create with Hedy at hedycode.com next!

A teacher’s experience with Hedy

Ramon Moorlag, a Computer Science teacher in the Netherlands explains how his students have used Hedy.

“Hedy is fun to use. Taking small steps, focusing on a single concept and not being distracted by conventions and/or typo helps a lot.

“My seventh graders enjoyed Hedy a lot. After explaining the lesson concept and practising it, I ask students how to use that concept in a free form. They have built all sorts of things, because it helps students create interaction from the start. For example, I have seen students build knock knock jokes, jinxes, riddles and interactive Christmas wishlists.

“So it’s not only a way of bridging the gap; it’s also a great way to engage students in textual programming.

“After running the Hedy course for the first time, I found that they had a lot more confidence when we started with some simple HTML and web tutorials.”