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Pros: Game-like style is well designed, allows young students to put coding concepts into practice.
Cons: Teachers will need to compensate for lack of in-game help.
Bottom Line: This is a great, free choice for classroom coding that empowers students to create.
Math, science, computer, and technology teachers can use codeSpark Academy to plan and execute their lessons from beginning to end. It's a coding program available free of change for all schools in North America. It takes about 5 minutes to set up a classroom (name your class, choose your grade, add an optional co-teacher, input students' names and parents' email addresses). Teachers can then review very detailed lesson plans that include standards, objectives, materials, vocabulary, a real-world connection, and links to engagement and instructional videos. The bulk of the lesson plan is designed to give students time to practice the skills that they need to master. You can have students play through the levels as the challenge increases, or you can challenge kids to create and share their own games!
CodeSpark Academy is a simple game-based app for learning about coding concepts. Kids drag and drop commands -- represented by visual blocks of code from the Scratch programming language -- into the correct order to animate a personalized character to collect coins or rescue lost pets by navigating around obstacles. Kids must complete one level to advance to the next, and they receive one, two, or three stars based on how efficiently they use the commands; levels can be replayed for a higher score. Important coding concepts like loops, conditionals, sequences, and events are introduced with multiple challenges that build in complexity. In the Create/Design and Code section, challenges are more open-ended, with students combining the concepts they learned in more original ways.
For teachers, codeSpark Academy allows for the creation of classes and the tracking of student progress in key coding skill areas. Once a class is created, teachers can set up the app on classroom devices so that students can play the game without any complicated login procedures or passwords. Teachers can easily track their students' progress via the dashboard. For older students who may struggle with literacy or for English language learners (ELLs), a benefit of this app is that there is almost no reading required. Students use visual and audio cues to complete all of the challenges.
CodeSpark Academy is a fun game for young students to see loops, conditionals, events, and so forth in action, and it can easily be integrated into an elementary classroom. Kids won't actually see any of the language of programming or write actual code, but they'll drag and drop commands into place to control the game, giving them a picture of what's involved behind the scenes, so to speak, in the video games they play. Since there's no in-app help or directions by design (which does make it accessible to more students), kids have to figure out what to do and how to do it on their own. A solutions guide is available, and it's really essential since some levels involve trickier solutions requiring multiple characters. Because kids are able to create, share, and play games together, the act of coding is rounded out by more creative and (carefully moderated) social elements.
Overall, codeSpark Academy is engaging and user-friendly. It provides an opportunity for younger children to learn the basics of coding. Teachers who themselves are already familiar with coding should have no problem executing the lessons and supporting their students through the challenges. However, for teachers who may be new to coding (ie. a club coach), codeSpark Academy does offer a teacher training course, but it is at the hefty price of $115.