Getting Started with Coding and Code.org

Coding is one of the popular buzzwords these days in education. I got started with it last year in April. I’m slowly starting to find other teachers interested in coding in my current district. Some of them have found articles in newspapers or online, and they ask me about what I do with my coding clubs. I explain each club, and what the groups do. The biggest
question I get is “What is the easiest way to get started?”

For the majority of teachers, coding is a brand new concept, and a bit scary to think about. Very few have any kind of background knowledge in the field, and yet, they are discovering that it’s starting to become integrated into education, and in some cases, even becoming law. Terms, languages, programs, where to begin?

My goal is to get teachers started without scaring them, and so my recommendation is for them to begin with Code.org, especially if they are an elementary or middle school teacher. Of course, Code.org isn’t the only program out there, but it has been the easiest for teachers use with students, and it’s free. It also has the capability to set up multiple classrooms. The big seller is the self-guided course. Teachers don’t have to come up with the curriculum, and they don’t have to know anything about coding when starting students on the self-guided course. In addition, the self-guided course also tracks all student data, and provides an answer key in case students and teachers are stumped. The courses are geared at students from kindergarten on up, so even the youngest of students can get started without having to be ableto read.

Before we get too deep into the subject, let’s look at what Code.org offers teachers. There are many Hour of Code activities. Theseactivities are meant to jump start students’ passion with coding, and can be completed in an hour or less. Code.org is even so kind as to link to other websites for Hour of Code. There are 20 hour courses to be completed, from
kindergarten on up. If you’re looking for stats on computer science and the field of computer science, you’ll find that there as well.

To get started, I do highly recommend that teachers see if a Code.org training is available in their area soon. This training gives teachers experience with both the course work and the unplugged activities that students will complete while using Code.org. The all-day training is hands-on and interactive. At the very end, you’ll go home with a bag of goodies, including a paper copy of the curriculum. Within the coming weeks, you’ll also receive a box of supplies to help with one of the courses in the program. Check here to see if there is a program available in your area!

If a training session isn’t available, teachers will need to rely on the information provided by the website. The first step then is to create an account. The sign-up process is relatively simple, and once the teacher has signed up, they have access to all of the course work and the ability to create classes and student accounts. The teacher can also work through each of the courses on their own, which I recommend, as it helps teachers help students problem solve when they are stuck.

Let’s start with what is available. For students in K-5, there are Courses 1-4, plus an Accelerated Course option. Course 1 is meant for students ages 4-6 years old, and requires very little reading experience. Courses 2-4 are meant for all other elementary students. Students begin with Course 2 and progress through to the next courses. The Accelerated Course is a combination of all of the courses, and actually the one I begin my middle school students with. Each course is estimated to take about 20 hours a piece, but this also depends on the student. I’ve had some students fly through their coursework, and others struggle.

Middle school students can complete the Accelerated Course, but their teachers have the option to use the Computer Science in Algebra or the Computer Science in Science courses. In order to do so, however, teachers are required to attend professional development first. This is where it’s tricky because if your district is not partnered with Code.org, you’ll have to have your district apply. Applications are not available year round, and applications for the 2016-2017 year are already full. CS in Algebra is made possible by Code.org and Bootstrap. Students learn algebraic and geometric concepts during the program, and work on some basic video game design in the process. Computer Science in Science is made possible by Code.org and Project GUTS. During this program, students learn about computer science with a focus on modeling and simulation. Even if your district is not yet partnered, Code.org allows anyone to check out the coursework once an account is created.

For high school teachers, two more course options are available. Once again, however, a district must be partnered with Code.org in order for teachers to attend professional development training. As with the middle school courses, teachers can explore the course work once they have an account on the website. The two courses are Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. Each of these courses are meant to last the entire year. Both courses do require intensive training in order to get started. If your district is wanting to implement either of these courses, then begin planning the steps to become partnered with Code.org first. Once that’s done, then you can figure out your next course of action.

Code.org certainly isn’t the end all when it comes to coding in the classroom. However, if you’re an elementary or middle school teacher looking to get started quickly, have ways to track student data, and have solutions to every lesson at your fingertips, then it’s a great place to start. Once teachers are comfortable, and they feel students are ready for more
challenges, it’s very easy to branch out and seek other options. With so many being available online these days, teachers are certain to not run out of options any time soon!

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