As many of you know, it was Computer Science Education Week a few weeks ago. Code.org helped to organize the 2nd annual Hour of Code, which introduced over 83 million students around the world to one hour of computer programming (aka “coding”). There is a huge global push to get students to experience coding because 1) it’s a high demand career and 2) there is a stigma it’s only meant for “computer nerds”. Students who partake in the Hour of Code hopefully learn not only that anyone can code, but that it can be fun!
I chose not to have students all do the same activity. I searched for a wide variety of activities that could be done on either a computer or iPad. I also decided to wait until the two days before Christmas Vacation. We were fashionably late to the coding party but made up for it by doing two days, You can see the list of resources I provided my students here. Unfortunately, none of the students that I saw tried coding on their iPad. (I was absent all of Monday and half of Tuesday with a bad cold, so I have a limited sample to go on.) Based on my observations and a Google feedback form, there were three activities that were by far the most popular:
- Ice skating with Elsa from Frozen
- Flappy Bird
- Code Combat
Ice skating with Elsa
Students use visual programming blocks to help Elsa create various designs in the ice. It helps them use the blocks as the commands get more advanced with each lesson. The only real fun part though comes at the very end, when students can program Elsa to do whatever they want. Some tried making really cool designs in the ice, while most others enjoyed watching her skate at insanely fast fast speeds while zooming off and on the screen.
Code.org has a really fun Flappy Bird simulator. Students once again use visual blocks to see how they can program different actions of the game. They decide what happens when you press the screen, when the bird hits an obstacle, and more. There are a lot of variables they learn to change, ranging from the bird itself (they can have other characters, including Santa’s sleigh), the speed of game play, and even the amount of gravity! The best part, again, comes at the end when students can create their own game by manipulating all of the variables to create their own version of the game. Boys especially could have easily spent both hours just playing each other’s versions of Flappy Bird. The coolest part of it all though was that students could send a text to themselves, which included a link that let them play their own game on their phone!! Even I was impressed.
Code Combat is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Basically, kids learn to code by playing a video game. The unique thing about it is that, unlike the other activities described above, students learn to write the actual code (instead of using visual blocks). In the game, you learn to move your character, collect coins, and attack enemies. I had some students spend the entire hour playing this game, and they were hooked to the point where I’m pretty sure at least a few of them continued to play at home.
The best part for me, other than exposing my students to the world of coding, was watching them interact. Even though students were working individually, they often showed each other what they did. I also saw students ask each other for help when they got stuck with a certain task. It was definitely the most engaged I’ve ever seen students on the two days before Christmas Vacation!
Some other options
As I explored options for my students, I came across some pretty interesting options for both coding and gaming in the classroom. I didn’t realize there were companies out there focusing on developing academic games. Here are a few of the things I discovered.
“Code.org has partnered with the award-winning Project GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) to deliver a middle school science program consisting of four instructional modules and professional development for the introduction of computer science concepts into science classrooms within the context of modeling and simulation. The goal of the program is to situate computer science practices and concepts within the context of life, physical, and earth sciences, and to prepare students to pursue formal, year-long courses in computer science during high school. CS in Science is based on a crosswalk identifying areas of overlap between the NGSS and Computer Science Teachers Association K-12 Computer Science Standards. Download a brief or full description.”
“Code.org has partnered with Bootstrap to offer their introductory curriculum which teaches algebraic and geometric concepts through computer programming. The nine units focus on concepts like order of operations, the Cartesian plane, function composition and definition, and solving word problems – all within the context of video game design. By shifting classwork from abstract pencil-and-paper problems to a series of relevant programming problems, Bootstrap demonstrates how algebra applies in the real world, using an exciting, hands-on approach to create something cool.
At the end of the nine units, students will have a completed workbook filled with word problems, notes, and math challenges, as well as a video game of their own design to share with friends and family.
Bootstrap is aligned to Common Core Standards for Mathematics. This alignment makes it possible to integrate Bootstrap into the classroom smoothly. Bootstrap is also a model implementation of Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, offering explicit pedagogical recommendation across all eight practice standards. Bootstrap also satisfies several of the CSTA (Computer Science Teacher’s Association) standards across levels 1 (grades K-6) and 2 (grades 6-9). Download a full description.”
A wide variety of educational games but not all are playable on iPads. Some of the cooler options include games about zombies, human anatomy, viruses, and citizen science.
Students learn to design their own video game through coding. They can do this for free. There are more advanced options as well, which cost money.
This site has so many resources that it’s a bit overwhelming. Their main goal is to include more games in schools (and not just the “plugged in” variety). They developed the game below and are connected to Gamestar Mechanic and Glass Studios.
“SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! is made of four different missions all centered on the theme of environmental impact. In each mission, students are tasked with solving increasingly complex problems. The game aligns to Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core Standards, 21st Century Skills, and Economics Standards.” The game, unfortunately, cannot be played on iPads, but it might be worthwhile enough to sign out the computer lab.
EA Sports also recently released a FREE SimCity game on the iPad. This is a different game than the one listed above and is more of your typical SimCity game. I have not had the chance to play around with it much myself. I have read that, while it’s an entertaining game, it often takes a lot of time to “build” various aspects of the city.
You get to play the role of disease detective in this fun game from the CDC.
This is just a small sampling of what is out there. I’m hoping you find at least one of these things useful for your classroom!