In many ways, the generation we are currently teaching has been labeled the “i-Generation.” They are by far the most plugged in, turned on, and, at times, zoned out because of the technology around them. There are plethora of educational apps and games out there, virtual and not. If you have not ventured into this territory before, I recommend checking out BBC’s Bitesize Games (Key Stage 1 is early elementary, and Key Stage 2 is late elementary or early middle school.), for excellent games that your students can play in the classroom, that are paired with quality lessons. I also know many teachers who use the site FunBrain.com for extension or review when students have finished work. Either way, great game sites or ideas are just a search away, but what I really want to focus on is coding for games.
Perhaps you have heard about the big push to expose students to coding through events like Hour of Code, but if you have not had the opportunity to have your students code in the classroom, you are truly missing out. Web and computer coding reinforce literacy and math, through 21st century critical thinking and problem solving skills. Coding puts the learning back in the hand of your students because they are the creators of their games, and it’s that ownership that ignites engagement and passion among all students, that I might not always see.If the idea of computer coding with your students seems like climbing Everest in a blizzard, fear not, I promise, it is not as scary as it sounds. There are a number of tutorial sites out there, which will guide you and your students through the process, and, as many of us know, our students are probably already ten steps ahead of us on what to do. If you get stuck, chances are one of them can help you out, but here are some places to start.
- Code.org: Code.org’s believes that anyone can learn to code, and they strongly support this through a variety of user-friendly courses and lessons. They play a large part in the Hour of Code event and partner with educator friendly sites like Kahn Academy. I recommend starting here if you have older, elementary students. I often work through lessons, at the front of my room, with beginners, and let my more advanced or curious students go off on their own.
- Tynker: Tynker is another Hour of Code partner, with great access for educators. I find their site to be geared more toward and early elementary audience. However, they offer lessons up through grade six.
- Codecademy: This is a great site for more advanced students, or educators who want to learn more about coding games and sites for their classroom. When running a robotics and coding course for sixth graders, this is where I sent my high flyers who were easily bored with drag and drop coding and wanted something with more of a challenge.
- Scratch: Scratch was developed by MIT as a drag and drop, block coding program (much like what you will see at Code.org and Tynker) that anyone could use. Unlike some of the sites above, Scratch acts as almost a blank canvas for developing games, stories, movies, and learning tools of all sorts. There are some useful tutorials on their site to help you and your students find your bearings, but after that the sky is the limit. I have had students develop math games, create animations of the rock cycle, and tell virtual stories via Scratch. By far, it is the program I have the greatest affinity for, as have many of my students.
Whichever route you may take. Coding can really empower students’ learning and flip your classroom in ways you may have never imagined. It takes students to a higher level of thinking. They aren’t just playing a game to learn, they are creating the game and the content, and what better way to learn?