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"Learn to Code?" Meh. "Build Something?" Now We're Talking, Says Hopscotch's Jocelyn Leavitt.

Programming becomes more appealing to kids when it creates something fun.

“Parents might say, ‘You should learn how to code,'” said Jocelyn Leavitt, co-founder and CEO of Hopscotch. “I think kids don’t necessarily respond to that, but if you’re like ‘Hey, would you like to build your own game?’ — kids are really excited about that.”

Leavitt’s Hopscotch app for iPad is filled with cute, colorful characters and ways to train them to do things like move across the screen, change shape and draw, based on input like tapping or the sound of clapping. The product is open-ended — kids decide what they want to build and put it into action.

Hopscotch first launched last April at AllThingsD’s Dive Into Mobile conference, the predecessor to this fall’s Code/Mobile conference.

Since then, the app has helped people save 1.5 million projects — which gives you a sense of how many people use it, as most every Hopscotch user has saved at least once — and compiled 57 million blocks of code. It’s also now easier to preview and debug programs, and to save functions for later use.

And Hopscotch has raised $1.2 million from Resolute Ventures, Collaborative Fund and Kapor Capital, and expanded to a team of six in New York City.

“We always wanted to create product that feels very accessible,” Leavitt said. “We almost want to talk less and less about computer programming because that in itself seems less accessible. We think of it even more as empowering people to create technology, which few people know how to build and create themselves.”

Unlike teach-kids-to-code alternatives like Scratch and the broader world of programming languages, Hopscotch code can only be run on the iPad within its own app. But Leavitt, a former teacher, thinks of the app as a way to spark interest in the topic.

“When you learn conditional logic and ideas around variables in Hopscotch, you can translate that to other programming languages,” she said. “I think the vehicle for learning those has to come from somebody learning to make something and having a contextualized use for that, rather than being taught in the abstract.”

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