Blackbird

Cross-curricular coding swoops in with strong supports for students

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Expert evaluation by Common Sense

Grades

5–12

Subjects & Skills

Critical Thinking, Math, Science

Price: Free to try
Platforms: Web

Pros: Easy to use, well scaffolded, lots of support. There's a decent teacher dashboard.

Cons: No pricing listed, no accessibility tools for those who require them, limited curriculum. Adding students to the class is clunky.

Bottom Line: This cross-curricular coder supports teachers and gives students thoughtful feedback as they apply JavaScript to science, math, and games.

How Can I Teach with This Tool?

Blackbird is a standalone platform that allows students to move at their own pace and learn as they go. It allows them to play around with their code in the workshop and try extra challenges once they have completed guided exercises. Teachers can assign various curricula to their students, allowing students to work through it at their own pace. It also allows for students to copy their work into the workshop and then submit it to the teacher for feedback and '"feathers" awarded for work well done. One standout feature is that its foundation is applying programming to subject-matter material, so students learn coding in the context of math or science concepts. At the time of review, the curricula are relatively sparse, but there are promises of more to come. Also, the interface gives kids lots of specific feedback, so the debugging process really adds to their learning.

It's a great supplement to work being done in class; it also works well as an initial introduction to coding in JavaScript that can be built on in class. It works well as a standalone or as a supplement, for both in-person and virtual learning.  Teachers also have a lot of flexibility both to add their own content and to draw on examples provided by Blackbird in addition to provided lessons. Plus, Blackbird has its own built-in LMS. One significant drawback is that pricing is opaque and a PD course is required to get teachers started; those obstacles may deter some from signing up. Another issue with Blackbird is how students are added: It's done through email addresses and automatically sends students a message that they've been added without asking for further verification. Students can also send friend requests to any email address they choose, which might lead to some privacy issues. But the free trial allows you to check it out at no risk.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating
Engagement

A variety of hints, stars, feathers, and other motivational tools should keep students engaged and wanting to learn more -- plus, kids see authentic progress. 

Pedagogy

Blackbird walks students through complex coding in JavaScript in a straightforward manner, allowing students to slowly build understanding in a scaffolded, step-by-step manner using real code.

Support

There are lots of hints and step-by-step instructions provided at each part of the process and a good selection of premade activities for the students to explore. Universal design and multilingual options aren't readily apparent.

Common Sense reviewer
Pamela Brittain
Pamela Brittain Academic Coordinator K - 12

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