In a recent post, Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss writes that coding is something like "cursive 2.0" — a practice that will soon become compulsory in schools across the nation.
There are currently 25 states that allow high school students to count computer science classes as math or science credits, and the motivation for coding classes only increases when considering the openings for plush jobs that require the skills, which many workers lack.
So what can schools do to catch up? A number of apps and Web-based platforms have popped up to help meet the challenge, including the five below.
1. Scratch Jr
Designed by researchers at Tufts University, Scratch Jr is a free iPad app that teaches coding skills to students as young as 5 years old. The app allows kindergartners to string together chunks of code in order to alter characters and shapes. Through this process, the youngsters can ultimately build their own digital stories. While they may not fully comprehend what they are doing, the process of coding will begin to feel inate and second nature — making later coding lessons even easier. As Scratch Jr co-founder Marina Umaschi Bers told the Associated Press, "most programs that introduce coding in fourth grade and up, it’s great, but they are coming kind of late to the party.”
Tynker allows students third grade and up to learn programming by playing with "LEGO®-like visual code blocks." The app allows students to play and build while also gaining knowledge for useful skills, and according to its website, close to 10 million have already begun using the program to do everything from making web apps to building custom games. Unlike ScratchJr, Tynker does have a price tag — though basic lesson plans and code puzzles are free to schools. For $50, a parent or school could purchase the individualized "Beginner Course: Introduction to Programming," which comes with 16 lessons, over 100 activities, and lifetime access. Thinking larger scale? There are currently 10,000 schools using Tynker, and $399 pays for access for a class of up to 30 students — and it includes additional assessments and a metrics tool. Finally, for $2,000, a district can purchase Tynker for an entire building on a plan that comes with multi-grade curriculum and access to a STEM library.
Charging $2 per student, Gamestar Mechanic is aimed more at computer game design than hard coding. Since teachers are still in charge of the learning set where students are designing these games, Gamestar provides educators with a "Teacher's Quest," which teaches how to properly facilitate a coding environment. This is pretty crucial, since many of the educators pushing coding into their classrooms may have little to no coding experience themselves.
Started by two Stanford grads, CodeHS is implemented in districts across the nation, providing curriculum for high school students. A bit on the pricey side, CodeHS charges by the number of students. So, 50 students for a year of basic coding classes costs $3,000, and 200 students runs about $9,000. The program also offers semester (5-month) sessions, which can cut costs a bit. So what does the plan include? Access to video tutorials, a library of teacher resources, access to CodeHS tutors who are on call to help teachers, and auto-grading to provide feedback on certain activities. There is also a "Full" option with perhaps the heaviest price tag: $30,000 for 50 students. That cost carries its own advantages, like individualized tutoring by a CodeHS staff member for all students, as well as individualized grading. This might be something for a school to keep in mind if it is applying for a STEM grant, in particular.
Another free tool, Codecademy allows users to make their own interactive websites. Additionally, Codecademy has partnerships with schools across the globe. It is currently working with he UK Department for Education and Computing At School in order to come up with tools that will make coding an easier subject for the educators in charge of teaching it. As you might expect, it's somewhat difficult to expect schools to teach code when their own staff is not familiar with the skills. Codecademy gets this. Signing up on its website will grant access to a teacher training course, free classroom coding resources, and a pupil tracker to help monitor student performance.
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