Wednesday 30 April 2014

Kids can Code!: Apps and Websites we've Used to Learn to Code

Okay, first off a confession: when I decided I wanted to get the kids in my class coding on the computer I had NO IDEA how to do so. I just knew it was a good thing, and that it would give some chlldren a chance to shine.

The opportunity arose when offered the Hour of Code this year. This was a tipping point for a lot of educators, and I don’t think we can properly thank all the companies that offered Hour of Code resources. It is a ready-made, step-by-step walkthrough for beginners. Perfect for classes of eager students!

The truth is I had no idea about a lot of things i have tried this year, but I found that if I just dove right in fearlessly, the students would follow. We followed the acronym F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning. Working together we proceeded through the steps of basic coding learning as we went. It came naturally to some students, and they then circulated and helped the students who were stuck on a level. We worked together and everyone was successful.

After the Hour of Code, we also took the opportunity to do the Flappy Bird: Code Your Own Game challenge at This seemed even easier than the Hour of Code Tutorial, and the room was near silent as students interchanged blocks of code finding the right combination to complete a level. The real fun and creativity came at the end when everyone was able to individualize their game, adding their own twist to Flappy Bird’s original code. Here is a short video of a Grade 4 student explaining how he "modded" the game.

Gr. 3/4 student explains how he modded Flappy Bird on from Scott McKenzie on Vimeo.

We wanted to share our learning with other classes, so we found an app that would introduce the Kindergarten students to coding. Kodable is a great iOS app for this age group, and we started with the most eager Kindies. They started sharing their learning with the rest of their class, and soon their whole class was learning how to code. The Grade 1 students were also interested, so we taught them with Kodable as well.

There was a lot of interest from students in coding, so I decided to try a Junior Coding Club, and a Primary Coding Club. Both have had steady attendance from students and I have been asked weekly “Do we have coding club today?”

These are some of the Coding apps/websites I have been using. I will start with the easier apps I used for the youngest students, and they get progressively more challenging from there. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please add on your own  in the comments below.

Primary Students:

Kodable: iOS app. Perfect way to introduce the basic coding commands. Great for Kindergarten as there is no reading required.

The Foos: iOS and Android apps, and it works on a computer (but not a Chromebook). No reading required, excellent for Kindergarten and up.

Daisy the Dinosaur: iOS app. Introduces the students to “block” coding. The only challenge I found was that it is difficult for the younger children to read the instructions.

Hopscotch: iOS app. This is a more advanced, greater choice/control app for children who have been successful with Daisy the Dino. I found a great tutorial on Youtube that walks students through some of the features of Hopscotch.

Snapcoding: works in the web browser (Chrome works best) and on tablets/chromebooks. This is a step up from Hopscotch, and introduces many more scripts that students can experiment with.

Light-bot: This app is great if you are a BYOD classroom. It is available on both iOS and Android, and their is an online version as well.

Tynker’s Hour of Code: online, a little more primary-friendly that’s Hour of Code.

Junior Students:

MIT’s excellent Scratch online coding program. We have only scratched the surface with this, Hopscotch is a good way to get ready for this program as it is a fair bit more advanced.

Turtle Academy is another online program that teaches the LOGO language in steps.

Codecombat has a gaming format, and moves past the blocks and has the students writing actual javascript commands.

Khan Academy has a full program on offer as well. We are going to be trying this next!

Codecademy now has an iOS app as well as their interactive website.

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