by Andrew Heinzman on
You don’t need to warm up water in the microwave or on the stove. Electric kettles are cheaper than ever, and they can help you make the most out of your tea or coffee drinking experience.
Toys and games that are super fun for your kids but also surprisingly educational are the sweet spot for many parents’ purchasing needs. Toss in the use of a much-loved franchise, and it’s hard not to like Kano’s Harry Potter Coding Kit right off the bat.
As someone keen to find new and exciting ways to teach kids coding, Kano sent me over its Harry Potter Coding Kit, right in time for the holiday season.
I was pretty smitten by it and guess what? It’s going to lure you in too. Let’s take a look at what makes it so fun.
A quick look at the packaging of the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit instantly shows you one key thing—this is a package that’s keen to look expensive and like a great gift. Opening up part of it by lifting up some dark pieces of see-through cloth gives that sense of style and luxury that well exceeds the cost of the thing. If you’re 10, though, it’s going to feel like a big event.
Fortunately for that child, there’s no need to worry about needing to delegate the hard setup work to an adult. The instruction manual is aimed at children (as well as enthusiastic adults) with some simple instructions that tell you what needs to be done to assemble your Harry Potter wand. Now, admittedly, that wand doesn’t look much like any of the wands you’ve seen in the movies (or how the books describe them) as it’s far less ornate and doesn’t mimic a specific character’s wand, but it’s still pretty neat.
It’s a simple matter of slotting together the PCB part of the wand with the rest of it (and placing the batteries correctly), and you’re all set with the physical hardware. It’s a nice touch that the booklet tells you what each part of the PCB does, immediately introducing some key concepts to kids that have never done anything like this before and we especially like that it starts the child off with the process by showing them the naked board and having them assemble the wand. The wand hardware contains a nine-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, as well as a magnetometer. The only notable thing it misses out on is there’s no rumble feature.
The first thing you see when you sync it up to your PC or Mac (the iPad is also a limited alternative) is the need to update the firmware on your wand. Yup, that takes a little of the shine off, but it’s pretty speedy at least. It’s also the perfect time to take a look at the poster and set of stickers that come with the kit.
Crucially for a gadget like this, any kid who’s vaguely competent with a PC can get things set up all on their own without the need for a parent to get too involved. Within moments, they can get started with the many lessons and challenges contained within.
Coding with the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit is almost as straightforward as you want it to be. Block-based, you drag and drop the pieces of the language around in order to cast spells. It’s intuitive stuff and starts out very simply.
The app plays out like a game with a map of challenges set in familiar places like Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and other places that will keep Harry Potter fans happy. There’s no storyline to follow, unfortunately, but you’ll have enough to sink your teeth into when it comes to figuring out the Scratch-like coding language. Like any intuitive coding system, different colored blocks go some way toward guiding you through what you need to do. They’re kind of like jigsaw pieces too so you can always muddle through and use trial and error to figure out how to do something.
Much of the time though, simply paying attention to the challenges and lessons will keep you informed. The lessons start out very simple but gradually scale up quite well. Soon enough, you need to add variables, change values, and even switch around objects. The lessons are suitably magical too. We’re talking things like casting a spell and levitating an item or magically making extra broomsticks appear. It’s enjoyable to see how things play out.
Where the wand comes into play is through its gesture-driven commands. You can “draw” famous spells like Wingardium Leviosa or Imperio through quickly spinning your wand around in the appropriate manner. It’s also possible to flick on screen items around by moving the wand around, providing you’ve coded the right things, of course. It’s a fun touch and a little more exciting than simply tapping a button and watching a routine unfold.
At regular points, you’re given a puzzle to solve. This tests what you’ve learned so far and it’s likely you didn’t remember quite as much as you thought you did. Annoyingly, there aren’t any hints or tips here. Instead, you have to backtrack to earlier lessons to enjoy a refresher course on what you should have already learned. It does, at least, mean you definitely know what you’re doing at some eventual point though, as the practice hones your skill with the platform.
Whether you’ve completed a puzzle or simply progressed in a lesson, you’re rewarded with new gear to kit your avatar out. Sure, it’s not life changing but it’s a fun way of rewarding kids and encouraging them to do more.
At its heart, you actually learn a ton while using the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit. There are 99 challenges to complete in all, as well as the option to make your own wand creations or delve into someone else’s. This side of thing isn’t perfect because there’s no curation to speak of, but it does extend your options immensely.
What I haven’t really mentioned here is just how joyous an experience the Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit is. It’s flawed at times. I’d have really appreciated hints and tips for the puzzles, and the graphics aren’t exactly going to win any prizes. However, it’s a ton of fun.
Simply piecing together jigsaw-style blocks to create a routine for your wand to become a part of is so satisfying. You get to enjoy those little moments of waving a wand around and “casting” a spell, tossing a Harry Potter themed item up into the air or simply setting off fireworks on screen. Plus, there’s the fact that your kids (and you) are learning along the way.
Kano suggests this kit is good for ages 6 and above. In reality, you’ll need to guide your child quite a lot at first until they’re a little older than this. Mileage will vary, of course, depending on how technically minded your child is but this is a better gadget for the pre-teen/young teenager market.
It’s kind of like the coding equivalent of putting training wheels on a bike. They feel like they’re doing something cool without realizing just how much of a valuable skill they’re learning along the way. Worst case? They never code “properly” (in the dry sense of starting with nothing but a blinking cursor) but they’ve still mastered logic skills without ever realizing. Plus, they have a ton of fun along the way.
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