John Partridge, at The Minster School, uses Codecademy with students for Computing. He explains why
I started using Codecademy right at the beginning after a recommendation from a friend working in web design. I had recently taken on the lead for Computing at The Minster School in Nottinghamshire and had been looking for ways of engaging students in coding.
In those early days I used it as an enrichment source for keen students. When students showed either an aptitude or an interest in programming we would recommend the site to them and encourage exploration of it as a way of developing their skills. It soon became clear that the site was providing a really accessible and supportive means of introducing some key principles and supporting student development.
This led us to use Codecademy more, supporting the implementation of our computing exam courses for both GCSE and A-level. There are a number of reasons Codecademy is great for this. First, it has a wide range of programming languages and courses and can accommodate your requirements, no matter what language you are focusing on in lessons. The online nature of the platform allows students to continue the lessons outside the classroom, independently and at their own pace.
Students respond well to level of responsibility and autonomy
This ‘flipped learning’ approach lends well to the practical nature of coding and reflects how these skills are implemented in ‘real life’ situations. We also found that the students respond well to being given this level of responsibility and autonomy as the way the lessons are broken down into bite-sized chunks makes it easier for students to progress in this manner.
I was made aware of another benefit of Codecademy about 12 months ago. I had previously been very ‘language focused’, concentrating on one core language at a time, and had really resisted the idea of students picking up different languages outside of the classroom. I thought this would confuse students when we were working together in a different environment in the classroom and affect the flow of the lessons. However, in a conversation at a CAS (Computing at School) Hub I realised that perhaps I was worrying about a problem that didn’t exist.
Underneath most programming languages is a series of core concepts. Whether you’re learning C++ or Java you’ll still be using selection and iteration, variables and sequences. That led me to a belief that it would be better to build on the enthusiasm and imagination of students and let them take more ownership of their learning, rather than force them into a particular pathway I had chosen. That is when Codecademy became a core part of our curriculum.
Freedom for students to pursue their interests
I believe that if the students are programming in some form – whether as part of the lesson or outside the classroom – it’s a good thing, so I let them run with it. Not only did this practice engage students, it also proved to be great research into what the courses contained and which worked best with the students. An example of a discovery made in this way is that we found students who took the HTML5 course picked up the idea of objects quickly, because they had learnt about using style sheets and could apply the same sort of logic to a much more complex programming paradigm.
I use Codecademy rarely in the classroom (other than the scratch pad at labs.codecademy.com), but if you walk past a lunchtime ICT club or look in a homework diary you’ll see plenty of evidence of its implementation and popularity with students and staff. We run regular student challenges, and have a Codecademy league in our A-level groups. The points and badges really engage students and give an easy indication of how well individuals are engaging with the product.
Beyond students, Codecademy has also proven to be a great resource for staff. Many of us work in departments with staff from a non-specialist background or in primary schools where there are no specialist computing teachers in the school. Codecademy provides staff with a manageable CPD environment where they can pick up on programming concepts at a pace which works with their schedule. We build in staff CPD with competitions involving students to complete courses and earn badges, which helps motivate pupils to work harder. It’s a really good balance of individual competition to earn more points and helping others in class to stay level or ahead.
Our close relationship with Codecademy means that we are informed of all upcoming developments – one I’m particularly looking forward to is the ‘pupil tracker’ feature (above, right) which will allow me to get a clear overview of how each class and individual students are advancing. This is essential for us to keep on top of progress and identify where students need help so no one falls too far behind. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this introduced and the opportunities it opens up for both students and teachers!
John Partridge is lead teacher for computing at The Minster School in Nottinghamshire
UPDATE: On Monday, July 14, Codecademy releases its “pupil tracker” with features that include: account creation for individual classes; the ability to track pupils’ progress, including percent completion, badges and last log-in dates; measure students’ courses and tracks in comparison to one another.
More information at http://www.codecademy.com/schools/curriculum