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Stockholm app makers teach six-year-olds HTML

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Levin, Knapp, and Nilsson at Cody Coder.
15:00 CET+01:00
The Swedish trio behind the world's first e-book that teaches children how to write HTML are set to add the edgy female character Holly Hacker to their growing universe, which includes a new interactive app.

What began as a three-week final project at the digital communications college Hyper Island in Stockholm became a much-praised e-book, in which the character Cody Coder teaches young children to write code. The adventure, however, is far from over.

The three students who invented Cody Coder have now reassembled - after internships at Metro, Spotify, and a New York-based creative agency respectively - and work from central Stockholm at the start-up collective SUP46.

Harried shoppers and tired public servants mill about in the February sludge on the street below as Sanna Nilsson, Lovisa Levin, and Rosalyn Knapp sit down to tell The Local about the upcoming adventures of Cody Coder:

An app that allows children as young as six learn to build a website.

"Anything you do these days will have some kind of coding involved, so why not learn it sooner rather than later?" Knapp says. "Children at a very early age recognize shapes and where to put them, so on the app they will drag snippets of codes into place and they see how the website changes."

"It's all about simplifying code and making it less scary, because it's not," her colleague Lovisa Levin interjects. "This new technical world shouldn't be scary. We're using gamification and drag-and-drop technology, so it makes it fun to learn a hard skill."

Cody Coder guides the children through the entire game, as the small boy explains the mission on each level. The trio say the app is a logical next step from the e-book, which is available in Swedish and English editions, with a Dutch translation due out soon. On the women's website, Cody Coder can be seen gazing up at the night sky - not unlike Saint Exupery's classic childhood tale of The Little Prince - except he wears black Converse and a baseball cap.

Yet those are not constellations lighting up the night sky, they are web nodes.

"We thought 'How can we represent this to kids in order for them to understand what it looks like?'" Nilsson recalls. "The internet is not tangible. So it is kind of abstract because you can't see it. The internet is a world unto itself. Children understand that it's real but you can't touch it."

"He travels to the world of internet. It's a very cute fairy tale," says Knapp.

At the end of the book, Cody Coder's parents ask him if he can teach them about coding too. To which the little boy, who apparently has impeccable manners, responds:

"Of course I can."

The e-book will now also be published in paper form, to allow parents and children to snuggle up and read about coding at bedtime.

Story continues below…

"People have wondered why the three of us, who are all young women, used a male character," Nilsson throws into the conversation. "But honestly we never put any thought into it. When we've done focus groups with kids and they haven't cared, but of course we want it to be equal."

That's where Holly Hacker comes into the picture in this next step of their business journey. At the moment, she exists as a sketch on Nilsson's iPhone. But the trio are restyling her, putting the final touches to the new heroine.

"We're not quite finished with her," says Levin rather affectionately while Knapp flicks through her smartphone images and reveals Holly.

"Holly Hacker's even more hardcore than Cody Coder," Knapp explains. "And she's quite edgy. That's another myth we are trying to debunk, that coders dress a certain way, that they have certain personalities."

"Coding is for everyone," Knapp concludes. 

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