Innovation: Education

4 great online tools for the Hour of Code

Global day of coding coming in December

4 great online tools for the Hour of CodeDecember 8th – 14th, students and educators around the world will be taking an hour to try their hand at computer programming. With coding being in such high demand, the #HourofCode is designed to jump-start an interest in computer programming in schools and find a way to work this new literacy into the classroom.

The #HourofCode website offers an educator how-to section, but we thought we’d share what we’ll be using come December.

Here’s 4 great online tools for the Hour of Code.

1. Code Monkey

Best suited for grades 2-4, Code Monkey is an online coding game that teaches the logic behind programming. Specifically, it tackles one of the hardest concepts to teach in coding: that in order to get a computer to accomplish a task, you have to break it down into the simplest steps possible. Here, the task is to get the cheerful cartoon monkey to the banana, navigating across streams, around bushes and with the help of a friendly turtle.

4 great online tools for the Hour of CodeThere are 30 free lessons to the game, and they cover objects, arguments and loops with gradually increasing difficulty. The cartoons are bright and cheerful, none of the animals are sad, even when they fall in the river, and the platform provides positive reinforcement for solving each puzzle. It won’t turn your students into functional-C programmers overnight, but it’s a very solid start.

Pros:

  • Self-paced
  • Suitable for grades 2-4
  • Easily covers an hour
  • No account sign-up needed

Cons:

  • Only 30 free lessons
  • Not easy to get help during the turtle section (but hey, that’ll prepare everyone for eventually tackling Javascript.)

2. Rails for Zombies

4 great online tools for the Hour of CodeThis self-paced Ruby course is still one of my favorites ever, and I cannot even TALK about how many other Ruby courses I’ve taken by now.

The good news is that you can do Rails for Zombies multiple times and the application presents new materials and challenges.

Probably best suited for a middle- and high-school-age audience, please still remember that it does talk about zombies and zombie activities (such as rotting, decaying and brain-eating) so may not work for all schools or students.

The course covers Ruby on Rails basics within the larger concept of web application development, which may whet the appetites of students eager to pursue that area of learning. Each lesson begins with a video introduction (and kicky theme song!), links out to other Ruby-teaching websites, and lets you download the teaching materials.

Pros:

  • Free, online
  • No sign-up required
  • Introduces web application development concepts
  • Breaks Ruby into juicy, dripping, manageable chunks
  • Good use of multiple modalities to present information
  • Online interface is well designed for getting help and feedback

Cons:

  • Waaaaaaaay longer than an hour to complete most lessons
  • Without creating an account students can’t save their work
  • Zombies may be too gruesome for younger students or culturally inappropriate

3. Tynker, tailor, cannon– AWESOME.

4 great online tools for the Hour of CodeTynker.com is offering a number of different lesson plans tailored for different groups of grade levels. So far my favorite is the 2-Person Cannon Game, in which students must work together to build, aim and fire cannons at each other. The instructions for building with Tynker, which looks and works a lot like Scratch, are offered in both written and audio form, and the collaborative nature of the module encourages teamwork and is a great jumping-off point for introducing pair programming concepts.

It’s a solid and engaging introduction to programming concepts, but Tynker doesn’t specifically name the concepts as they’re introduced, so it may be harder for students to recognize those concepts when they encounter them again in their programming. Great for younger middle grades and aspiring game designers, though.

Pros:

  • Tailored for middle school
  • Colorful, engaging platform
  • Instructions presented multi-modally

Cons:

  • Scratch-based platform may be too beginner for some middle grades coders
  • Tynker color-codes the units of their programming system, which is problematic for students with color-blindness issues
  • Auto-start audio is such terrible HTML5 I CANNOT RIGHT NOW but ymmv.

 

 

4. Code Combat

4 great online tools for the Hour of CodeCode Combat is my new favorite coding tutorial tool. Modeled on a MMORPG (massive multi-player online role-playing game), you can use this free tool to learn Python, Javascript, Coffeescript or one of three tiny obscure, experimental programming languages, one of which is modeled on LISP (*ancient-coder fistpump*).

And it looks. Like. A. MMORPG.

It acts like a MMORPG.

You pick a hero, you pick up a set of boots, and then to get all the rest of the equipment, you solve code problems, advance through the dungeon and pick up XP (experience points) and gems along the way.

The instructions are not super easy. The game drops you into a dungeon, and in order to navigate, you type in incomplete code commands and figure out why they’re wrong, both with (some) feedback from the game, but mostly from context of other commands already in the game. This is not an ideal way to learn a programming language, but I’m gonna tell you, it’s the closest thing to how you actually pick up a programming language when not doing Hour of Code: look at existing code and figure out how to re-use it.

Also, Code Combat is a near-illegal amount of fun.

4 great online tools for the Hour of Code

 Pros

  • omgsomuchfun
  • Teaches viable programming languages in addition to concepts
  • Platform provides hints for corrections and rewards for correct code
  • Incentive-based play: you only have a certain # of lives to get each line of code right
  • You can easily work for an hour on problems
  • You don’t *have* to sign up for an account to use the platform

Cons

  • Slightly harder than the other three platforms
  • The hinting system could be more robust
  • You need to register for an account to save your progress

What will you be learning with your students for the Hour of Code?

Author

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs.

Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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