Top 5 Free Middle School Computer Science Resources Blog Feature
Bri Stauffer

By: Bri Stauffer on April 18th, 2019

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Top 5 Free Middle School Computer Science Resources

Computer Applications | Coding and Programming | Middle School

Middle school computer teachers have their hands full teaching Microsoft Word, Google Sheets, and more to hundreds of students every marking period.

Now that most course standards have changed, you need to teach coding as well!

Because coding is becoming a critical skill in many careers, you have a lot of options out there to help you teach your students to code.

But if you never learned to code yourself, how do you even know where to begin?

To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of the five best free middle school computer science resources:

  1. LightBot
  2. SpriteBox
  3. Hour of Code
  4. Code.org
  5. Scratch

In this blog, we’ll give you some detailed information about each resource to help you decide which one(s) to use in your classroom.

Let’s get started!

1. LightBot

lightbot-logo

LightBot is a puzzle game that helps students understand basic programming practices and concepts. Specifically, students learn:

  • Sequencing
  • Overloading
  • Procedures
  • Recursive Loops
  • Conditionals

While the full app does have a small price ($2.99 per download), they have a free demo version that will fill about an hour of class time.lightbot-screenshot

To go along with the LightBot demo game, they have a great overview that explains how the game teaches coding.

This is an excellent resource for teachers who are unfamiliar with coding, with examples and screenshots to make sure you can answer common questions from students.

Overall, you could easily use the free LightBot game to introduce the basics of coding in one class period.

You could also combine LightBot with the next option on our list -- SpriteBox!

2. SpriteBox

spritebox-logo

SpriteBox is another logic puzzle game from the creators of LightBot. SpriteBox is more of a platformer-style game (like Super Mario Bros.) that teaches the basics of coding.

While going through the game, students will enter “code mode” at certain points to advance through the levels.

The concepts students learn from SpriteBox include:sprite-box-screenshot

  • Sequencing
  • Parameters
  • Loops
  • Procedures
  • Basic Swift / Java Syntax

The full version of SpriteBox costs $4.99 per download, but like LightBot, there is a free version available.

The free version of SpriteBox is made up of four levels, with each level relating to different aspects of coding. While these lessons will only fill about an hour of class time, it’s a great way to introduce the basics to your students!

If you want more than just a one-off activity, the next resource on our list has an abundance of options!

3. Hour of Code

hour-of-code-logo-header

The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science that takes place during Computer Science Education Week every year.

However, you can use the resources on the Hour of Code website any time of year! With hundreds of activities to choose, it’s a great place to get your feet wet with teaching your students to code.

You can find the most relevant activities to your classroom by using the filters such as grade level and classroom technology.

What’s great about the Hour of Code website is they don’t just link to the coding activities — they also show you details like:hour-of-code-activity

  • The creator of the activity
  • An overview
  • Related resources
  • Level of student experience needed
  • Classroom technology needed
  • Topics
  • Activity type
  • Length of activity
  • Available languages
  • Related standards

Because each activity takes approximately one hour, Hour of Code resources are perfect additions to your existing course materials without you needing to rearrange too many lessons!

But if you want something more structured than an activity here or there, our next option could be the perfect fit for you.

4. Code.org

code.org-logo

Code.org is one of the most well-known computer science resources out there. While they are the organization behind the Hour of Code, Code.org has its own separate computer science curriculum.

The two options for middle school classes are called Computer Science Discoveries and Computer Science Fundamentals Express.

code.org-computer-science-discoveriesThe Computer Science Discoveries curriculum is designed to be taught in a semester-long course with a minimum of nine weeks of class time.

Code.org describes the Computer Science Discoveries curriculum in this way:

“Students engage with computer science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem solving, and fun.

The course inspires students as they build their own websites, apps, games, and physical computing devices.”

The curriculum covers foundational topics across six units:

  1. Problem Solving
  2. Web Development
  3. Animations and Games
  4. The Design Process
  5. Data and Society
  6. Physical Computing

Because Computer Science Discoveries is a fully-fledged curriculum, Code.org includes a 46-page curriculum guide. In the guide, you’ll find your lesson plans, standards mappings, teacher resources, and more.

Overall, Computer Science Discoveries could be everything you need to teach a coding class from day one.

But if you’re looking for something more supplemental, Code.org’s other middle school computer science curriculum could be a better fit.

The Computer Science Fundamentals Express course teaches foundational programming concepts by using drag-and-drop blocks. It’s a 30-hour course that Code.org encourages you to teach in-class or as part of an afterschool program.code.org-computer-science-fundamentals-express

This “express” course is an accelerated version of the Computer Science Fundamentals elementary school courses.

Because of this, you may notice a few things that seem geared toward younger kids (because they are).

However, if you take time to sort through the content, it’s still a great way to introduce foundational programming concepts to middle school students.

As a bonus, Code.org has a self-paced course for teachers that you can take to learn the ins-and-outs of what your students will learn in Computer Science Fundamentals Express!

Want something with a clear structure like Code.org, but not ready to implement a full curriculum? The last option on our list has the best of both worlds.

5. Scratch

scratch-logo

Scratch is a popular system that allows students to create their own games, animations, and interactive stories.

It was designed specifically for students aged 8-16, so it will be a great resource to use in middle school.

Scratch has a few different areas on the website – ideas, explore, and create.scratch-animate-character

In the Ideas section of the site you’ll find introductory activities that teach coding basics in engaging scenarios such as animating a character or creating a story.

In addition to the student tutorial, each activity comes with an educator guide.

The educator guide is essentially a detailed lesson plan that will help you keep students on track with the tutorial.

It’s a simple yet crucial piece of ensuring both you and the students have success!

These introductory activities will take approximately one hour each, so you could use them to easily fill your requirements for coding!

If you’d like to give students an opportunity to create more detailed projects, have them check out the Explore and Create areas.

In the Explore area they can look at projects others have created to get ideas or even create their own remixed version.

Then in the Create section your students can actually create projects “from scratch” using code. Giving students a chance to build their own creations could be the perfect way to round out your coding lessons!

How Do You Teach Coding in Middle School?

Now that we’ve shared our top five middle school computer science resources, do you have any to add to the list?

Which resources do you find work best for your students?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

 

About Bri Stauffer

Bri writes content to help teachers and students succeed in the classroom. In addition, she runs the AES Educator Community group to help teachers collaborate from across the country.

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