Games/apps: Code.org

Code.org. 2017, https://code.org/. Accessed July 16, 2017.

Above image taken by C. Cournoyer.

It’s hard not to notice the giant push in education toward coding and STEM in general. When I visited a retiring librarian at my son’s school and asked her for advice in becoming a school librarian, she said “Learn code. Go on to code.org. Have your son teach you.” So that’s what I did– my son Henry (age 7) showed me around Code.Org, his favorite educational website, he taught me some beginning code using some of its games, and he helped me write this review.

Henry (as dictated to me, mostly, with some editing and prompting): Code.org is a lot of fun for kids because coding makes up computer games… and kids love games, right? It’s easy to start because you can set up your own account, or you don’t have to– you can just start right up so you don’t have to remember your password. Then you can choose courses, but instead at school we like to do Hour of Code. We take our computer or library time and start a lesson and work on it as long as we have the time. There’s fun stuff like Minecraft, which is my favorite of course, and Moana, and you can make her canoe sail through the ocean with 3D graphics when you learn how to. It’s so cool.

Code.org has coursework for students of all ages and literacy skills (pre-reading and beyond, and anyone new to coding regardless of age) in the form of units with set objectives and activities, some of which are “unplugged” and some involve computer work. The site also has resources for teacher professional development– how to code as well as how to teach coding, and where to go for in-personal PD as well. The site is mostly easy to navigate once you figure out what exactly you’d like to do. Logging in is optional, but an excellent way to track your progress.

All lessons for students start out with a video where kids who code or adults who do it professionally explain what they do, how it works, and how kids have used that skill in their own game-playing. It’s a fantastic way to answer the ever-present why do we have to learn this question, and gives users concrete examples of a specific coding skill at work.

I usually skip over the vids, mom. They’re fine but kind of boring. I usually just want to start the activities.  So I like that they have Minecraft and Disney stuff. It makes it more fun. I get stuck sometimes on some steps. I have to be patient and I get irritated. But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and you have to try again. Once you figure out how to do the basic stuff, they give you options like creating a game, where you can choose sound effects and you have to do certain challenges, like create loops and come up with rules for the game. I love coming up with rules. Me and my friends at school laugh at the stuff we make our birds [the character that is programmed] do.

Each lesson in the sequence builds on the last. Students are told at the beginning what they’ll be learning, so there’s a clear learning objective, and a sense of what the end result might look like– good scaffolding techniques in terms of instructional design. Many lessons are branded with things familiar to kids, including Disney characters and, yes, Minecraft. Because Code.org has made it a fun game with graphics, sound, color, and a challenge to complete,  there’s an intrinsic motivation for students to figure out why things go wrong, and to correct them. Excellent hands-on problem solving at work.

I highly recommend spending some time working through Code.org. It presents a fun challenge to think concretely and sequentially to complete a task. And it’s important for librarians to understand and do a bit of this themselves, as increasingly library spaces are incorporating computer labs and makerspaces.