My favourite tech tool from last year was completely revamped during the summer. This post will recap some of what I learned while teaching with code.org last year and explore some of the great new features now available for 2014-2015. This post is also part of the first #peel21st blog hop of the new school year. Check out some other great tech tools by reading the other blogs linked at the end of this post.
What is code.org?
Code.org is a website where anyone can learn the basics of computer programming. The skills are taught progressively, using short videos to introduce new concepts and game-like puzzles to immediately practice what you’ve learned. As you pass the levels and stages, the concepts gradually become more complex (e.g., loops and conditional statements). You can tie it into the curriculum through math, science, and language. It is amazing for practicing critical thinking and problem solving.
The top reasons I love code.org:
- It’s free!
- It works on all devices that have a web browser (perfect for BYOD!).
- It’s multi-lingual! I have my students use French as a language learning opportunity, but you could also have ELLs use their home language.
- The drag & drop interface is very intuitive and user-friendly.
- My students LOVE code.org! Seriously, it’s addicting. They do it at home because they want to – even during March Break and the summer holidays. They beg me to stay in at recess to work on it. Some of them even finish it and want more (Scratch to the rescue!).
My experiences with code.org last year
Last year, I used the 20-hour Introductory Course with my students from grade 1 to grade 8. Even my youngest students were engaged and successful. I am willing to try anything with my students and I know they can accomplish a lot, but I have to admit that my expectations of how well they would do were blown away. Students collaborated, thought critically and persevered through even the more challenging puzzles.
This year: New courses
This year, there are three brand new code.org courses. These courses are aimed at K-5; however, I think they could be used to introduce programming at any age. I’ve done the courses myself and was engaged by it – so I have no doubt grade 6-9 (or even higher) students could be, too. If I was still teaching ICS20 (Grade 10 Computer Science) at the high school level, I’d certainly use code.org as a great quick intro to other more open-ended tools.
Course 1 is designed for early readers (approx age 4-6). If your students can read (approx age 6+), start with course 2. Course 3 is for students who finish course 2 and want more. Again this year I am teaching grade 1-8. I plan to start all my students with course 2.
I’m excited about some of the new levels in the new courses that I think my students will love, including building your own flappy bird game:
There is also a completely redesigned teacher dashboard this year. Your teacher dashboard will let you see all your students’ progress at-a-glance. It’s great to help notice any patterns – are many students struggling with the same level? If so, maybe a mini-lesson or a bit of guidance is needed. The green levels have been completed successfully, while the red ones have been tried but not completed. I encourage my students to do the levels in order as the progression of skills really does build on the prior levels. Despite this advice – you can see that some like to jump ahead (and it does allow them to jump forward or backwards to any level at any time).
The one thing I’m really missing this year is the “recent class activity” feature which allowed you to see the exact code your students had most recently tried. It really allowed me to “be everywhere at once” in my room. If a student got really stuck, I also liked pulling up their code on my computer to project it and work on it collaboratively. By doing it through the dashboard, the student would then still have to go back to their own device and repeat the work themselves – helpful to consolidate what we’d just discovered together. I’m hoping enough educators provide feedback that they miss it and that the feature is brought back.
Ready to get started?
If you just want your students to try it out, you can participate in an “Hour of Code”. For this, you do not need to create any teacher or student accounts. Just visit code.org, click on learn, then click “go” on the intro tutorial:
If you want to be able to keep track of students’ progress as they do a full course, you’ll want to create a teacher account and student accounts:
- Register as a teacher on studio.code.org.
- Create your class. The video below shows an example of using the teacher dashboard to add a new class, add students to a class and setup their passwords:
I recommend the “picture” secret type method shown in the video for those that teach one or just a few classes.
Personally, I teach over 20 different classes, so I prefer to use the “none” option under secret type. If I chose none, I do not need to enter my students’ names to setup my classes – just add each section and that’s it. I also won’t need to bookmark 20+ unique login pages (simply too many to manage effectively across the many devices in my room!). Each section I add gets a unique 6-character code that I can see in my teacher dashboard:
I have each class go to code.org/join and input their section code:
Students will then register themselves. I have them use their Peel email address (which they will then use later every time they login). For younger grades, I also tell them to use a standard, common password – otherwise, I spend all class, every class resetting lost passwords (learned that one the hard way!).
As soon as they register, they can get started right away and they also automatically show up in the right list in my dashboard.
I am so looking forward to getting back into code.org with all my students this year. I’m also super excited that there’s course 3 to assign to those eager students who will finish course 2 more quickly than most. As always, I’m sure I’m in for at least a few surprises.