Industry News

5 features to look for in a coding program

Paola Valdivia
July 20, 2021

Sign up for STEM SmartBrief to get news about STEM education in your inbox.

Long before COVID and the switch to all things virtual, our students were avid consumers of technology, particularly when it comes to online apps and social media. Students are already interacting with coding daily, so they should be learning how to create it.

And schools are the perfect place for them to learn it. But what goes into choosing a platform? Here are five features you should consider when evaluating your options.

  1. Opportunities to learn different coding languages. My school, KIPP Foundation, wanted a platform that offered different ways to engage in coding language. For example, we wanted our youngest students to engage in authentic block coding that they could later use as stepping stones to script coding and more advanced exercises. This provides an opportunity for students to learn how to code -- skills that students can then build upon or transfer to other programs. 
  2. Exposes each grade level to computer science. For KIPP, taking the traditional approach to robotics teams -- 10 students per team, per school -- would mean leaving out thousands of other bright youngsters who wanted to try their hand at coding and building robots. We knew we needed to do something broader, so we integrated one unit of computer science into every grade level and scaffolded the program by age. This widened our computer science footprint and allowed us to reach a much wider group of students than we would have with a traditional robotics team structure. 
  3. Provides robust teacher support. Teaching computer science can be daunting. Teachers who feel like they don’t have the expertise may run away from it. The platform you choose should offer teacher support and ideas for activities and lessons. CoderZ’s support helps our science teachers lay out the framework for computer science conceptual learning before students apply that knowledge in the robotics platform. The program includes lesson plans, PowerPoints Presentations, and a team that is flexible and open to feedback.  
  4. Engages students. Look for a platform that encourages students to engage in the program and gives them an entry point to pique their interest. This is particularly important for first-time coders who aren’t quite sure what they’re getting into. For many students who are experiencing it for the first time, if the coding isn’t an engaging experience, they’ll put up a complete block against computer science. 
  5. Measures mastery. Find a platform that can serve as a supplemental opportunity without incurring the cost of buying physical robots and gives you a way to monitor student performance and progress. In fields like computer science and robotics, assessing mastery isn’t easy. There’s no paper test to take. Our platform lets students and coaches see mastery of coding both at a basic and advanced level.

A coding curriculum is a vital offering in schools. It’s especially important for schools, like ours, that serve large numbers of students of color; this group is widely underrepresented in both STEM education and in technical careers. Introducing students -- at every grade level -- to coding sets them on a path to build skills they will need for the future.

Paola Valdivia is Director of STE Instruction at the KIPP Foundation. KIPP uses CoderZ for its coding platform.

Like this article? Sign up for STEM SmartBrief to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s education newsletters, covering career and technical education, educational leadership, math education and more.