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Coding, even for adults, isn’t the flashiest of subjects to learn. Sure, the finished products can be astounding, but the actual process of learning to program isn’t always appealing, especially for our nation’s youth.
So what better way to teach unsuspecting children how to code than through interactive games with fun colored lights? JumpSmart, a startup coming out of Babson, has created such a learning tool with a mat that lets youths program their own games and designs onto a sensored mat. Bryanne Leeming, the MBA candidate who founded the company, told me all about JumpSmart and how it’s going to expose kids to the magic of coding at any early age.
Gamification of coding education
The programming isn’t exactly a kid-friendly activity. After all, sitting still and quiet isn’t many children’s forte.
“Most kids’ experiences with learning coding involves sitting at computer screen and it’s a solitary process,” Leeming said. “It’s too bad because most kids don’t like that.”
JumpSmart is different. It will transform traditional teaching methods for programming, making it creative, interactive and physically active. Ideally, this will appeal to children and get them into coding at a young age.
Leeming also maintains designing games and animations with JumpSmart will instill entrepreneurial values on youths. She explained, “It teaches kids the mindset that it’s not always right the first time, but that’s OK. They’ll learn to envision a final product, iterate towards it, test it and then keep going.”
Making an entrepreneur
“To start, one thing that lead me to this point is that my parents own a business in New Hampshire,” Leeming told me. “Growing up with that gave me the bug, and I always wanted to start my own business.”
Leeming had studied Cognitive Science at McGill, where she discovered that she loved researching how people learn best. After completing her undergraduate education, she went on to work in the product department in the watch division at Harry Winston. The experience coming up with new products at the luxury jeweler exposed Leeming to product development. And, following a stint at New York startup adMarketplace, she came to Babson for her MBA and combined all of the skills she had picked up in the past to start JumpSmart.
All of the pieces of Lemming’s past lead her to launch a company, but how did she come up with the idea for JumpSmart in particular? Her background in Cognitive Science did serve as some inspiration on the educational front, but it was fond memories of a favorite childhood computer game that did the rest of the work. Leeming explained that she used to play MicroWorlds, a version of Logo that was actually a spinout from MIT, exposed her to coding languages at a young age without her even knowing it.
“When I was a kid, I used to play a computer game at school called MicroWorlds…And when I was in college taking computer science courses required for my degree, I had this realization that I had learned this before,” Leeming said.
She continued, “That game had been a programming game. It had a real effect on me. The early exposure had an effect. I had an edge in class and in my career in technology. I easily understood technology, even though I wasn’t a programmer, per se.”
With JumpSmart, she hopes to create a similar experience for children. If today’s younger generations unknowingly learn to code through designing their own games, they could be better prepared to tackle more sophisticated programming later on in life.
Preparing for the future
Over the past year, JumpSmart has been on a prototyping spree. According to Leeming, they’ve tested out their various prototypes at the Museum of Science, a Girl Scout event at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and local YMCAs. Each time, they’ve received feedback from students, teachers and parents so they can keep improving upon the product.
JumpSmart is currently wrapping up some fundraising. The capital will support the company through the next year and will allow them to build up their final, manufacturable prototype at Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville. It can’t come soon enough, either. Leeming explained that, given recent governmental emphasis on incorporating computer science and coding into children’s educations, games and other tools that teach kids to program are going to become essential.
“Even though not all kids will need to become programmers, because of where technology is going, they’ll all need to know the basics of programming just to be part of the conversation,” Leeming said.
Image via Bryanne Leeming.