CSS Surgeon: A game with many life lessons

Remember that old party game, Operation, in which you tried to carefully remove a plastic butterfly from the belly of a cardboard patient without setting off the buzzer? Well, this game just got an upgrade from Codepip.

Now students, as young as 10 years of age, can learn and practice CSS, a text-based language for coding in a game called CSS Surgeon. The game’s fun layout enhances the learning experience as students learn to move, rotate, scale, and skew elements, using CSS to execute commands. The game is designed as a gateway to coding in CSS, along with other games on the Codepip site involving JavaScript and HTML.

As you’re reading this blog, you’re probably asking yourself, “Why should my elementary students learn to code?” Here are 6 ways that CSS Surgeon will benefit your students’ development through gameplay.

CSS Surgeon teaches a logical way of thinking

As I progressed through each level, I began to understand the rationale behind coding commands through active play. This type of sequential thinking is necessary whether a student is destined to become a software developer or a fashion designer. Life is replete with problems in all walks of life. The transference of these thinking skills will increase the likelihood of better decision making when met with problems like “should I make a house party while my parents are away for the weekend?” Consider the game, a practice tool for how to think through life’s problems within a safe playground. Our responsibility to our students goes beyond the classroom. Coding nurtures a way of thinking that transfers to facilitate rational thinking and discerning choices beyond tests.

CSS Surgeon will enhance your students’ understanding of complex mathematical concepts

The game will not proceed until the child masters each command through its successful execution. Your students will feel empowered, as the game slowly builds from basic coding functions like moving a rusty nail 100 pixels to the right to more advanced functions like scaling parts to negative values. These are terms with which younger elementary students may be unfamiliar. However, the incremental nature of the game and colorful graphic images, illustrate sophisticated concepts in ways students can easily grasp. So, while many of your students may not know what a 90˚ angle looks like, through trial and error they will learn how to orient virtual game pieces so they fit neatly into the proper holes.

CSS Surgeon strengthens visual-spatial skills while working on commands involving scale, rotation, turns, and skew

To successfully, remove or replace parts, children must visualize how to position parts and then execute this translation through the proper command. Did you ever shop for a new sofa and try to imagine how it might look in your odd L-shaped living room? The process of envisioning turning the sofa in different directions is a visual-spatial skill. It’s also one that successful students employ to read maps in geography, make sense of letters and words in ELA, follow physical directions in gym class, or solve word problems in math class. In short, strengthening your students’ visual-spatial skills is like exercising muscles through repeated challenges, practice and rewarding outcomes within the game.

CSS Surgeon is a democratic tool that empowers girls and boys to enter the STEM field

Whether your students are boys or girls, CSS Surgeon, appeals to the humor of childhood. It is not a “girl” thing or a “boy” thing. It’s a “thinking” thing. And, while it all begins within a simple game of Operation, the knowledge gained can be implemented in larger coding projects that invite creativity and collaboration among boys and girls together, allowing both genders to shine.

Your administrators will appreciate the way CSS Surgeon aligns with many of the Common Core standards in mathematics as well as language arts.

Core competencies in mathematics stress “making sense of problems and persevering in solving them, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, using appropriate tools strategically, and attending with precision,” just to name a few. Within ELA, Speaking and Listening standards come into play whether students are working together as partners or involved in whole group discussions. Standards like “posing and responding to specific questions, reviewing key ideas expressed, or adapting to speech in a variety of contexts” are all applied as students navigate the language of coding. Beyond the Common Core, teachers will find applicable standards within Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Computer Science Teachers Association Standards (CSTA), and the International Society for Technology in Education Standards (ISTE).

Most importantly, CSS Surgeon enhances passion and nurtures perseverance through rigor

This is one of the most critical skills that teachers can inculcate into their students to increase their independence in the world. Nurtured early on in a child’s life, this one skill will boost resiliency, both academically and socially. Failures along the way serve to illustrate that we won’t always be successful at everything we try the first time around–and that’s okay. It’s those who persist and learn from their mistakes that reap life’s sweetest rewards in a complicated world.

Julia Dweck


Julia Dweck has been teaching gifted elementary students in grades K-5 for the past 15 years in a public school in northeastern PA. She is an active maker and designer of innovative STEM projects and curriculum for her classroom, as well as large educational technology companies. Julia was the 2018 recipient of the Da Vinci Hall of Fame Award for visionary educational practices in technology and coding. She was the 2019 recipient of Judith's Reading Room award for creativity in literacy. Julia has written over 40 children's books that nurture creative thinking and imagination in young children.

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