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I don’t know a girl who grew up on the U.S. who doesn’t know who Nancy Drew is. Girl detective, Nancy and her pals, Bess and George, filled many an afternoon for me. As a child, I had at least two dozen Nancy Drew titles on my shelf at home, and made my way through additional titles from the school library.
What is it about Nancy? For me, I found it fascinating how she just seemed to fit in so seamlessly in her life – which often took her far from home, somehow always in the company of her father and two best friends. Nancy was aware, noticed details – and she was clever and kind and knew how to have fun without looking for trouble… although trouble always seemed to find her. Nancy Drew also taught me the meaning of the color titian. 😎 In the app, Nancy’s hair happens to have moved right over to pink, but it’s okay. It’s all part of the fun.
Nancy Drew, Code and Clues is an engaging, empowering app designed to bring STEM concepts for girls to the forefront . It’s a very clever and well conceptualized effort that will draw girls into the activities where they’ll be developing honest-to-goodness coding skills, all while just trying to teach the clever puppy a trick.
Nancy Drew: Codes and Clues focuses on two main types of activity.
Seek and find puzzles.
Most of the app, the player is gathering clues. Much like any detective, the player enters rooms and has to keep her eyes peeled for anything of interest – what doesn’t belong (really, hay and oats do not belong in the locker room… so what are they doing there?), what belongs and is interesting, and key components of the room. There are tons of puzzle apps that leverage this particular feature out there, but Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues takes it to the next level. Once the player has found all of the possible clues, the app – <cough> I mean, Nancy comes by and examines the clues. She points out the really interesting ones, the clues that point us in some direction toward solving the mystery. These clues are saved in a Clue Book where the player can review them over the course of the game.
This is where the rubber meets the road, for me. There’s coding integrated throughout the app, which is all based on a story. Nancy (just) happens to have built a robotic puppy (which you, the player get to name). Throughout the investigation of the mystery, Nancy, Bess and George find themselves needing a little help – sometimes it’s retrieving something they can’t reach. One time, they are actually trapped and the only way to escape is too small for them to fit… but not too small for the puppy. This is when the coding comes in. The play uses graphic blocks to program the puppy. The tasks increase in complexity, beginning with simple steps, moving on to jumping up or down, using a sort of hover craft function, and (of course!) barking. Eventually, the player is introduced to creating programming loops to allow more functions to occur in fewer blocks of programming.
As I mentioned, the programming is graphic. Much like some of the blocks on Code.org, the player selects a “block” that represents the function she believes the puppy needs to complete next. However, in many of the graphic code blocks in Code.org, one can actually see the coding text on the graphic block. In Nancy Drew, Code and Clues, instead, the graphic is a representation of what the puppy will be programmed to do. Jumping up is represented by a curved arrow up and forward. Jumping down is a curved arrow down and forward. A step forward is one arrow. As the tasks increase in complexity, more and more graphic options are offered, from changing directions, to hovering, and creating repeating loops. As an educator, I honestly felt delight when I realized the developers through ahead enough to make these code blocks truly functional. The player doesn’t have to replicate one static, correct answer. Instead, any combination of code – any working combination at all – that results in the puppy completing the task is successful. This is really excellent, because it keeps the player focused on results. My children work on a regular basis with many different technical tools, and on a regular basis, face what they call glitches. In fact, while writing this exact post, I needed to stop to assist my 11 year old. He was stumped because he’d just completed (he thought) a task in a program, but his answer was marked incorrect and he didn’t understand why. When I looked it the correct response offered by the program — and compared it to his – well, his was not incorrect. It was correct. It was just different, and the code in that app did not allow for variances in correct responses. Nancy Drew, Code and Clues doesn’t reward the player with progress for “a correct answer.” Nancy Drew, Code and Clues rewards the player with progress in the game for functioning code.
Growing up, I was not a particularly girly-girl. By that, I mean that I any interest in clothing, priming, styles, and such came much later (in my teens and even twenties) for me. So, this part through me a little.
At the beginning of each segment of the story-line, Nancy points out to the player that she, Bess and George will need appropriate outfits for the place they are going.
I’ll be honest. This kind of bugged me at first. I don’t much cotton to teaching girls that they will be judged by their clothing and appearance (even though I recognize this is a reality of our society). I want girls to be focused on cultivating their minds and character, and I’m trying to teach my boys to look to that in others (and others includes girls, you know).
However, as the game went on, I really got it. Perhaps the first prompt to change the characters’ outfits was a concession to girls who just like to play dress up, treating Nancy, Bess and George as virtual paper dolls. But later in the story line, the girls start investigating in places with their only purpose being to gather clues. They don’t want to draw attention to themselves, so it becomes more important that they dress to fit into the environment they’re about to enter. And, I have to admit – wearing the exact same outfit to an athletic field, a music rehearsal hall, an art studio, and stables just might end up attracting attention that detectives aren’t seeking. As the game went on, I really began to appreciate the use of “dressing up” as a way to encourage the player to think critically (yes, I just typed that) about what clothing would fit in. I found myself pondering – wait, should all girls dress in the same style of clothing – should they all be in marching band uniforms, or one in marching band, one in a more pop style…? I also want to say – I took note (and appreciated) that the various outfits offered up for each character reflected the very different personalities I remembered each girl – Nancy, Bess, and George – having when I read the books as a child.
And – of course – there’s the puppy. Players get to name the puppy, and, while it may be a robot, gracious, the developers worked at making it stinkin’ cute. At first, I found myself distancing myself from this virtual-virtual puppy, but started to appreciate how well it followed directions (coding), especially compared to my own happy-go-lucky-not-so-attentive offline pups. But, I did fret – just a little – about the emphasis on this canine mechanoid as opposed to real dogs. but I shouldn’t have worried. The mystery centers around a contraption for distributing dog treats, and at the end – guess what shows up and plays with the robotic puppy? Yep, a real dog. I mean, a cartoon dog. A cartoon real dog, who eats cartoon treats and plays with the cartoon robotic puppy.
<sigh> Sometimes the electronic world gets a little complicated to talk about. But I think you’re getting the idea. In developing Nancy Drew, Code and Clues, a great, engaging story has been created which draws the player into the world, where she’s so busy looking for clues and solving mysteries, attention to details and coding capably are the means to her end.
Nancy Drew, Code and Clues is, in my opinion a great use of screen time, where young girls are learning important skills while having some down time and (even) some fun. You can find Nancy Drew, Code and Clues on Google Play, in the App Store, or by visiting their website by clicking here. Let’s encourage all our girls with the idea that Tech Club is the best!
This is a sponsored post. I received a complimentary copy of Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues for review purposes, as well as compensation for writing this post. Any opinion expressed above is my own and based on my personal experience with the app (which, yes, I did the entire thing and
solved the mystery helped Nancy solve the mystery). For a change, this post contains no affiliate links, but they will be in the side bar, if it’s visible.