A brisk chill has hit the air and everyone wriggles in their seats with excitement. The most wonderful time of year has arrived…and I’m not talking about the holidays!
Every year, the second week of December is set aside to celebrate Computer Science Education Week – also known as CSEd Week. It’s a time when CS educators offer up their favorite exercises to help spread the idea that computer science is a valuable core skill that is neither as difficult to teach nor to learn as some might think.
One of the benefits to experimenting with code and CS during CSEd Week is the amazing number of experiences that teachers have to choose from. Unfortunately, that’s also one of the drawbacks.
With so many fantastic introductory experiences, how does one decide what to use with their class? How can you tell which exercises are worthwhile and which will fall flat? Keep reading for tips on choosing the best experience for your classroom.
Identify Your Goals
In order to know if an activity is going to meet your needs, first you need to figure out what success would look like. Do you want students to learn a specific concept? Do you want them to come out the other side with a project to share? Do you want them to have the most enjoyable experience possible? Your goals should shape your decisions.
Find a Project Pool
Nowadays, CS curriculum can be found all over the place, but the most robust set of offerings can be found at hourofcode.com/learn. This website has a gallery of resources, curated by teachers from around the world. With independently scored rankings, activities that end up at or near the top of the Hour of Code™ list are sure to be among the best. Even still, projects that are ranked high overall might not be a good fit for your classroom. Make sure to use the provided filters to narrow the results. Choose the age, reading level, and experience level of your students to get a custom list of activities.
Choosing an Experience
Certainly, with so many great options to choose from, you can’t go wrong letting students pick their favorite lesson and playing around for an hour. But, if you’d like to add a little more structure, look for offerings that include lesson plans.
After narrowing your list, you’re still likely to have a bunch of candidates. Fortunately, a quick look should tell you all you need to know. Click into your top activities and see how easy it is to get started. Do they require a sign-in? Do they feel age appropriate? Are there clear instructions? Is the game/experience worthwhile?
Putting it into Practice
As an example of a high-quality Hour of Code activity, I’ll share some of the thought that went into Save the Forest, the lesson that I created as a part of Microsoft MakeCode Arcade.
Before building the lesson, our team knew that we wanted an activity that was connected to real world issues. We also worked with the US Department of State on a connecting project, the Global MakeCode Arcade Game Jam (accepting games through 12/19/21), so it was important that we connected to one of their policy areas. We chose to focus on conservation.
It was also important to us that anyone could traverse this skillmap, whether or not a teacher was present. We wanted to allow students to log in to save work, but we did not want to force them to make accounts before they could play. This experience was geared toward beginning coders close to the middle-school age range, using MakeCode’s block-based Arcade interface.
Our activity was tested with dozens of diverse volunteers, including adults and teens to make sure that the final game was functional, exciting, and provided value for the learner. All of this led to an experience meant to engage students and help them better see themselves reaching for computer science again in the future.
No matter which activity you chose, CSEd Week is a fantastic time to introduce students (and faculty!) to a medium that provides long-lasting educational enrichment and scholastic benefits that continue to grow over time.
What are you waiting for? Hop over and pick an activity for your classroom! Don’t forget to share your experience on Twitter using the hashtag #CSEdWeek.
Kiki is Director of Education at Microsoft MakeCode, as well as the author of several books, including Computational Thinking and Coding for Every Student, My First Coding Book, How to Be a Coder, and Disney’s Coding with Anna and Elsa. Globally recognized as a pioneer in K-12 Computer Science Education, Kiki has been involved in the Hour of Code since its 2013 inception.