18 Resources to Get Students Coding This Year

Each year during December, there’s a focus on coding and computational thinking. Computer Science Education Week is happening December 7th-13th this year and there are a lot of great ways to get involved. A few years ago I first learned about the Hour of Code, and immediately referred to the Code.org website to find activities for my eighth grade STEAM class. Just getting started, I didn’t know much about the resources available and thought this was the best way to provide some activities for my students to join in during the week. It was fun to sign up to participate in the events of the day and see from where around the world other classrooms were joining in from. But beyond that one day, and actually, that one hour, we didn’t really do much more in my class. I asked colleagues and members of my PLN about their activities for the Hour of Code and coding throughout the year, and many stated that they didn’t know how to implement more in their classrooms. It was then that I recognized the need to provide more ways for students to learn about coding and computational thinking, and that as educators, we must actively look for opportunities for our students. We need to push past an Hour of Code and do more in our classrooms.

Preparing Ourselves

For some educators, topics like coding and computational thinking can seem challenging to bring into the classroom and for them to know enough to feel confident in teaching students about these topics. I was one of those educators. My comfort level changed when I had to create a game using Hopscotch for a master’s course and I struggled a lot. It was uncomfortable to not be able to fully understand the coding process, but it pushed me to keep learning and to start using Hopscotch with my eighth graders. I learned a lot from my students and it was a great opportunity to put myself in their place as they learn something new. Realizing that it is okay to not know all of the answers is a valuable lesson.

Another hurdle was to learn more about computational thinking, a topic that I had avoided because of a fear of not understanding it enough and thinking it did not apply to my role as a Spanish teacher. It was an area that intimidated me because I believed it to be so complex.

However, I recently took a Computational Thinking (CT) course provided by ISTE U, which definitely stretched me professionally and provided a solid foundation full of resources for doing more with these topics in my classroom. We need to find ways to give our students and ourselves an opportunity to learn about topics like coding and computational thinking and how they apply in our daily lives and how it could possibly benefit us in the future.

Where to Begin

There are so many resources out there that sometimes knowing exactly where to start presents the challenge. It is easy to get started by referring to the Code.org site or checking out CS First from Google and resources for educators. There are some apps and websites to get started with coding and computational thinking. Some of these can be used specifically with elementary students in grade bands pre-reader through two, three through five, and six plus, and others that are specific to middle school or high school. Several of these options offer ways to search based on topic, level or type of activity. What I like the most is that they are fun ways for educators to get started with coding and CT, with the ability to decide how to apply them to our own work.

Start with Code.org or CS First from Google, and then explore these 18 resources to check out what specifically to use during the Hour of Code and Computer Science Week, or take the time and try each of these out over the course of a couple of weeks. Have your students explore and continue learning right along with your students.

18 Sites to Explore

Artist. Use this as a way to have students begin coding with blocks to complete tasks to build their coding skills.

Code.org. Explore this link to find a list of resources and different activities and to sign up to participate in the Hour of Code. There are more than 500 one hour tutorials that are available in more than 45 languages.

Code Combat is a game based computer program for older students who want to learn about Javascript or Python. In Code Combat, students type in their code and see their characters respond in real-time.

Code Monster is an easy way to get younger students to learn more about code. Two boxes on the screen show the code and what the code does, with explanations popping up to show students what happens with each command.

CoSpacesEDU Robot Rattle. Students learn to operate a robot and the activity includes a tutorial video. Using blocks and drag and drops, students can write the instructions for the robot and then if devices are available, the robot can be seen performing the tasks as written in the code in virtual reality (VR).

Hopscotch is for use with iPads and has specific activities available for the Hour of Code but offers many options for students to create their own games or to remix games that are available.

Turtle Art. Students use block coding like Scratch but through the use of one turtle and mathematics to do the programming.  Students can create their own work of art or remix someone else’s painting.

Science

Explore Mars with Scratch. Students in grades three through eight can create a Mars exploration game using Scratch. Through this lesson, students work through activities and build their math, computational thinking, and problem-solving skills. There is also the option for an extension activity for students in grades K-12 to do an independent project.

Multi-topics

Code-it studio is for use with grades two and up and offers students the chance to program art and designs.

CodeSpark. Students up to grade five can design and code a video game using the self-paced activity available through this site.

Code an Unusual Discovery. Using Scratch and CS First from Google, students can work through on their own and create a story using code.

Khan Academy Code. For grades six and up students can watch an interactive talk-through, work through challenges or decide to do their own project. Everything that students need for coding is available directly through the website. Students can also learn to code by making a website in HTML tags and CSS.

Kodable. Activities for students in grades two through five, offering Javascript for students in upper elementary grades. There are activities for social studies, science, ELA, math and more with levels from beginning to advanced. Students can even choose their own adventure.

Minecraft Hour of Code. A free Hour of Code lesson was developed by Microsoft’s AI for Earth team. In the lesson, students in grades two and up use code to prevent forest fires. There is also a free online course for educators to learn how to run an Hour of Code lesson in their school.

Robo-Restaurant Decorator. Students in grade two and up can program a robot to paint a restaurant and the algorithms must be done correctly

Star Wars. The first activity we tried was working through the activities provided using the Star Wars theme. Activities are available for students in grades two and up. Learn to code with Blocks and Javascript.

Tynker offers a lot of activities for students to participate and learn about coding, specially curated for the Hour of Code. Activities are grouped for students in the ranges of K-two, three-five and six plus. Options available include text coding, STEM activities, and the new UN+ which is focused on ecological issues such as life on land, responsible consumption and affordable and clean energy.

VidCode is an online platform that offers opportunities for teachers to explore computer science curriculum or individual lessons related to coding. For the Hour of Code, explore the Climate Science coding activity.

Another option is to have students learn about the Hour of Code, its origin and different terms related to coding and then use some of the game-based learning tools out there like Kahoot! To help students develop a better understanding of the basics of coding. Try one of these ideas out for some fun ways to get students involved with coding and use the game as a starting point for class discussion.

Why Students should learn to code and how to get started

Published originally on Getting Smart December 15, 2017

Coding is one of the topics that has received greater attention in education over the past couple of years. With a greater emphasis on computer science and coding and the demand for knowledge in these areas, there has been an increase in the variety of resources available to encourage schools to provide opportunities for students to learn about coding. The “Hour of Code” takes place annually during “Computer Science Education Week”. The week is in recognition of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computing pioneer. To see some of the events and activities from this year’s “Hour of Code” week, go to the Code.org site or check out the hashtags on Twitter for #HourofCode and #CSweek.

The goal of participating in an “Hour of Code”, is to show that anyone can code and to highlight how vital computer science knowledge is for today’s students, as it helps them to develop the skills they need to be prepared for their future. Data provided on Code.Org provide statistics which support the growing need for students to have opportunities to learn about and develop skills in coding and computer science. According to the site, the majority of schools do not teach computer science, with only 40% reported as having courses available for students. For careers in STEM, 71% of the jobs available are in computing, however, only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. As for future employment, computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the United States, a number that is expected to increase. In addition to the future benefits for employment, what are the other benefits of coding for students?

Why should students learn to code?

Coding is something that each student can do and is a more engaging way for students to work on their collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Coding can help to promote SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. For example, in working through the various modules available on Code.org or through other coding programs, students develop their self-awareness as they work through the challenges of coding and they develop a greater understanding of their strengths and being able to set goals for oneself based on this self-awareness. Students will become more confident as they problem solve and experience success along the way and by helping peers as well. Students build relationship skills through the collaboration during activities, seeking and offering help when needed and learning to cooperate with one another to solve a coding challenge.

Students can also experience more inquiry-based learning, where they are exploring on their own, problem solving and discovering how to make a program work, where the steps fit in and then being able to share the experience with one another. Personally, I enjoy trying to work through the activities on my own, to experience the challenges and be better equipped to anticipate student questions, but also to be more familiar with areas of struggle.

Getting Started

The idea of coding can be a bit overwhelming, at least that is how I felt when I first started a few years ago with the game Hopscotch. It was challenging to create a game and it took a lot of patience to push through. However, back in the early 1980s, as a 7th-grade student, I had my first experience in writing lines of code with the Apple computers. Once you learn the basic structure and the commands, it is a gradual process that does not seem to take too long to master. Even nearly 35 years later, the concept of coding really is quite the same, except that we can create more visually engaging games and programs. There are so many resources and websites available to help educators and students get started, making it less intimidating than it may initially seem.

When trying some of the resources below, be sure to engage students in discussions about their experience with coding. Encourage students to share with their peers and talk about professions which require coding skills or to brainstorm areas where knowledge of coding will prove to be beneficial. Providing this time for students to interact will help them to develop their SEL skills, by building peer relationships and supporting the classroom culture.

Working with students

Be ready for students to express some frustrations when trying to work through the activities. Even if you don’t have experience coding, it’s a great opportunity to learn right along with the students and in many cases to learn from them. How do you prepare? I recommend trying each of the activities on your own, so you are familiar with the set-up and the types of tasks that the students will be completing. As a Star Wars fan, I started with the basics and did encounter some difficulty mid-way. As it turns out, a few of my students had the exact same problem with it and asked for help. Although I did figure out how to work through it, I wanted them to work through it on their own as well. We need to give students time and space to problem solve, to ask for peer support and to experience the frustration that comes with solving problems and the joy that replaces it when the solution is reached.

Seeing the students begin to collaborate and step in to help their peers, demonstrated the benefits beyond just learning to code, it promotes their SEL skills. A lot of what is involved in coding is critical thinking, problem-solving and definitely collaboration and with all this comes an amount of frustration perhaps when the code does not work as one expects. This is when we see the students start to connect and help one another and I have also seen students become very frustrated, understandably but it is what we do with that frustration, pushing through even in the face of challenges, knowing that there is support available amongst peers and the “teacher” in the room. There is always an identifiable teacher, but as we have learned in our classes, we all have something to learn and something to teach.

Ten resources to try

  1. Code Studio: A part of the Code.org, there are full courses available for learning different types of code, for different grade levels, as well as one-hour tutorials on themes such as Minecraft and Star Wars. Teachers can also use the “App Lab” and “Game Lab” to help students learn how to create using Javascript. Also available are more than 20 million projects created by students.
  2. Scratch: Created by MIT, Scratch is a website for more than just programming. Scratch provides an online community for sharing projects and for learning from the library of resources available on the site.
  3. Code Academy:  Through Code Academy, you can enroll in courses to learn how to program, or search the catalog to find a specific language to learn, such as Java, Javascript, HTML and CSS, for example.
  4. BrainPOP: Teachers can engage students in the “Creative Coding” module, in which students create stop-motion animation movies, memes and newscasts. Students follow the instructions to write their own lines of code and see how each line changes the program. Working through the module leads students to create their own codes and publish a movie or create a meme. The Creative Coding module is free for Teachers through the end of the year.  There are also lessons available which focus on Computer Science and Coding and offer a variety of activities for students to develop their skills.
  5. Hopscotch: an iPad app in which students can learn to make their own games and apps, available for students ages 8 and older. There are tutorials which include videos and lessons plans, making it easy to get started with this in class.
  6. Swift Playground: An iPad app that enables students to get started with coding quickly, without any coding knowledge. Students can start by solving puzzles in order to learn the basics, and then continue through challenges to do more advanced coding.
  7. Pencil Code: A collaborative programming site which provides resources for teachers, student project samples, and choices of creating games, playing music, drawing art, and working with mathematical equations and graphing.
  8. TeachersFirst: There is a rather extensive list of different types of websites for coding based on theme and grade level for getting students involved.
  9. Girls Who Code: A non-profit organization which focuses on closing the gender gap in technology. Girls Who Code offers information for creating after-school clubs for girls in grades six through 12 to learn about coding, as well as two-week-long summer courses and a seven-week-long specialized summer program for 10th and 11th grade girls to learn about coding and job opportunities.
  10. Khan Academy: A non-profit organization which offers free educational resources including practice activities and videos, which enable you to learn at your own pace. Khan Academy provides lessons on Computing, with options including computer animation, hour of code, computer programming and computer science. It is easy to get started by either choosing the basics and working through a whole lesson, or selecting a specific concept.

Coding is not just about learning to write a program, it’s about connecting with the learning and building relationships in the process. Learning to problem solve, collaborate and work together to build skills for the future. Developing our interpersonal skills and fostering the development of meaningful and supportive relationships in the classroom will empower students in learning.

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