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Pros: Focused activities allow students to work at their own pace and stay challenged.
Cons: Without guidance, students might choose activities at random instead of following the scaffolded curriculum.
Bottom Line: A thoughtfully planned, produced, and curated set of free resources bound to get kids hooked on learning to code.
Curious beginners can start with the short, engaging Hour of Code tutorials. There are even unplugged (no computer needed) activities that teach coding concepts in the physical world. The Hour of Code tutorials are similar to the activities included in the CS Fundamentals curriculum. If you already have a coding curriculum but are looking to supplement it with some real-world experience, send students to the App Lab, Web Lab, and Play Lab, where they can design and share apps, websites, and games, respectively. Students can also play and remix games designed by other students, which is a great option for students who need some creative inspiration.
Elementary teachers looking to integrate coding into a classroom and secondary computer science (CS) teachers preparing for a new semester should focus on Code.org's courses. Free and comprehensive, the curriculum includes detailed lesson plans, videos, handouts, offline activities, and online tutorials. Code.org's curriculum is a good mix of online independent practice, unplugged group activities, and discussion. Using the teacher dashboard, you can assign lesson activities, monitor progress, and set sharing permissions. Each lesson is clearly tied to Computer Science Standards and assignments can be shared with Google Classroom. Teachers can get their own training on-site, too, plus a free in-person professional learning program.
Code.org is a website dedicated to K-12 computer science (CS) instruction, from coursework to advocacy. The site is geared toward increasing diversity and accessibility in computer science, preparing new CS teachers, adding computer science to school curricula, and helping to set up policies that support computer science. Code.org offers five free CS courses, from the 14-lesson Pre-reader Express to CS Principles, a yearlong AP-level course. Users can employ block-based coding tools, written code, or move back and forth between the two. Emerging readers will benefit from tools that read lessons aloud, although some basic reading skills are helpful. The curriculum addresses concepts both offline and online and leads students through progressively more difficult lessons. Students age 13+ can access all of the coursework independently, though the courses are designed to be facilitated by a teacher. If you need translated lessons, the International Computer Science Fundamental Courses are translated into 25+ languages. And in terms of accessibility, there are Hour of Code tutorials that are accessible via screen reader, there are text-to-speech options in many lessons, videos have captions (in English), and there are options for students with limited access to devices and Wi-Fi.
In addition, the site includes short tutorials to pique students' interest in programming as part of the Hour of Code initiative. Students watch video instructions delivered by famous programmers, then use blocks of code to program mini-games with some familiar characters from Minecraft, Disney, and popular game apps. Saving student progress requires an account and, due to privacy considerations, children under 13 have limited access to features unless they're participating in a teacher-led course. A project library contains millions of student-created games that anyone can play and remix.
Full Disclosure: Code.org and Common Sense Education share a funder, and in the past, Common Sense Education has partnered with Code.org. However, that does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.
Code.org is a one-stop shop for coding in schools. From a pre-reader course to an AP-level course, Code.org offers high-quality, free curricula for all grade levels. Most importantly, teachers don't need computer science degrees to facilitate the coursework since Code.org provides excellent professional development to support teachers. Well-produced videos get kids excited about programming and help them understand its significance in the world today. Unlike some curricula that focus only on programming and algorithms, Code.org's courses encompass many computer science topics, from understanding how the internet works to Big Data to digital citizenship and privacy. Pre-readers may find the text-heavy site challenging to navigate without support, but emerging readers and beyond will find activities accessible and fun.
Many coding sites and apps address either block coding or actual programming with limited support around the actual principles and thought processes that apply to computer science. Code.org aims to be comprehensive -- and succeeds. And its commitment to give access to all students is also noteworthy: Though not every lesson is translated or accessible, the site clearly directs teachers and students to what they need with a promise that they're continuing to expand those efforts. Teachers at all levels can find curriculum, online communities, and helpful resources to challenge and inspire their students on Code.org.