Review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2018

Microsoft MakeCode

Bring code to life with circuits, robots, Minecraft, and more

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3–12
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Pros: Great connection between code and hardware, easily switch from block- to text-based commands.

Cons: Must buy peripherals/hardware for most uses; core subject teachers may find it hard to integrate.

Bottom Line: Once you purchase the hardware, MakeCode opens doors to an incredible diversity of coding applications.

Microsoft MakeCode showcases the diverse application of computer coding. Where we often think of coding as being used to create apps, teachers can use MakeCode to show that code can be used to control hardware, for engineering, for art -- for almost anything. This makes MakeCode really well suited to robotics clubs, makerspaces, and science classes. This may make it less appealing for teachers trying to integrate elements of coding into things like ELA, social studies, and math. 

Use one of the introductory courses provided by MakeCode or have students work on individual projects. As students become more proficient at using the code, introduce the JavaScript commands. While it most likely won't be possible to have all the hardware featured on the site, this is still a great place to introduce students to circuitry and robotics hardware they might not otherwise experience. 

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Microsoft MakeCode offers a block-based interface along with a JavaScript text editor to use code to create projects for everything from robotics to Minecraft. Simple tutorials allow users to quickly get familiar with the interface and begin designing for micro:bit, Circuit Playground Express, Minecraft, Chibi Chip, Grove Zero, Sparkfun, Cue, and Lego Mindstorms EV3. The user experience will be familiar to anyone who uses Scratch. There's a simulator space (where the code runs) and a code-block editing space where different elements of code are combined. The terms for the different code blocks are different from those in Scratch, but the functionality is very similar and relies on universal principles of coding like Boolean operators, loops, and conditionals. Microsoft MakeCode allows students to then download their code and run devices like the micro:bit by connecting them with a USB cable. These peripherals have to be purchased (the MakeCode website provides links to vendors) to see the code in action. 

The MakeCode site offers fairly extensive support materials for teachers and independent learners. There are projects of varying complexity as well as course materials to follow that offer a systematic introduction to coding concepts. Externally, there are also materials available for each peripheral device (like the micro:bit or Grove Zero) on YouTube, for students or teachers searching for additional ideas. 

Microsoft MakeCode is undoubtedly a powerful tool for learning to code and for seeing the incredible range of applications for programming. A key role for K–12 educators is helping foster interest in coding among a diverse range of students. By seeing different ways that code is used, coding will ideally appeal to more types of students and encourage them to study and apply it. This makes MakeCode a valuable learning and teaching tool.

The text editor (to actually code using JavaScript) extends the life of Microsoft MakeCode; students can continue to use the site when their skills have progressed to using actual code with all the syntax rules that go with it (something that most young students find too difficult). 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

MakeCode offers something for almost any student: Minecraft players, kids into robotics, makers, etc. For older students, the early projects may seem young, but if they stick with it, there's plenty of potential for growth.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

A key strength of MakeCode is showing the diverse applications of code (i.e., it's not just for creating apps). But some instructional components are too step-by-step and don't push students to figure things out on their own.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Microsoft MakeCode features a wide range of hints, tutorials, and projects for teachers starting to teach coding and for students learning independently.


Common Sense Reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

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