Computer scientists release new Pytch web-app to help students write their own programs

Posted on: 09 April 2024

The new version of the free “Pytch” app is the fruit of a development process in which a community of young coders and educators around the world have worked to create and improve a fantastic resource for students and new programmers.

Pytch helps people to bridge the challenging gap between block-based programming and text-based programming, using the common programming language Python.

Block-based programming environments like MIT’s Scratch are a very popular and successful way to introduce programming to young learners. With Scratch, learners can create fun projects with graphics and sound while learning computational thinking and coding skills. However, as these students progress through their education, they want or need to transition to using text-based systems, and encounter a number of challenges.

When learning text-based programming languages like Python, students have to jump to writing in text instead of blocks, leaving behind the world of Sprites (2D images), sounds and animations, as well as their understanding about how programs are made..

A female student with blond hair works on the Pytch app, on a desktop computerA student works on the Pytch app, on a desktop computer.

Project lead, Glenn Strong, Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Computer Science and Statistics, said: “Coding can start to feel more like work than a creative, fun activity and students might lose interest or find it too hard when they have to start written coding. The novel feature of Pytch in addressing this difficulty is that it focuses on the question of programming paradigm, allowing students to continue to write the style of program they have become familiar with, supporting Sprites, sounds, and interactive event-driven programming using terms familiar from the Scratch environment.”

“I’m delighted to be able to release this new version of Pytch that will make the classroom experience better and more enjoyable for all our users. This is the result of well over a year of design and development with support and collaboration from many people in the community. Helping learners stay engaged with computing and coding is really important and we are glad to be able to support coding education with our work.”

 PI Prof. Glenn Strong in a blue T-Shirt, with a student at Dublin Maker, demoing Pitch PI Prof. Glenn Strong with a student at Dublin Maker, demoing Pytch. Over 10,000 people attended the event.

Pytch will now enable users to write a huge variety of programs while simultaneously developing the skills required to continue maturing as coders. The new app version is available to use online on the Pytch website and users are encouraged to begin their journeys writing in Python by creating their own computer games with a guided experience

The Pytch team has so far worked with over 300 students and 30 educators, who have co-created classroom activities, testing and providing feedback to improve the platform. An eight-week Pytch course, recently created by the team, was the first course from Trinity to be included in the CSLINC environment (Computer Science Inclusive Learning Environment) which provides CS education courses to more than 6,000 students around Ireland.

Over 4,500 students were registered to the Pytch new lesson plan within CSLINC, with hundreds already engaging with the available materials. Pytch also has collaborators and supporters in Spain (University Rey Juan Carlos), Wales (Technocamps), and Australia. And many other educators from Spain, France, Italy, UK, US and China have contacted the team in Trinity to access the learning and teaching materials. 

Lead developer Dr Ben North, Research Fellow in Trinity’s School of Computer Science and Statistics,said: “Working with teachers and students is essential to make sure we're building a system that will be useful for them. I'm excited that we've been able to use their feedback to make this new version of Pytch, and I'm looking forward to seeing what people will create with it. We are now focused on working to improve the app’s accessibility to make the learning and teaching experience more inclusive and we would like also to explore the translation of the app and its materials into Irish.”

Dr Ben North in a muted green hoodie, talking to a student working in the Pytch app, on a desktop computerDr Ben North working with a student in the Pytch app.

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland, which has funded the project, said: “SFI are delighted to offer our continued support of Pytch as they enter this new phase in their journey. This project has already engaged learners and helped them to bridge the difficult gap from block-based programming to text-based, where they progress to learning languages such as Python. This is a crucial stage of learning coding and the expanded Pytch platform will provide huge support to teachers and learners alike during this transition phase, while supporting students to continue their studies in Leaving Certificate Computer Science and beyond.”

For more information see the Pytch page on the School of Computer Science and Statistics news page.

Media Contact:

Thomas Deane | Media Relations | | +353 1 896 4685