Review of Code.org for Middle School Computer Science
As a curriculum developer, we speak with thousands of middle school teachers every year.
Many of these teachers are looking for ways to teach coding and programming and often ask how AES can help.
While we provide a Coding Fundamentals module as part of our digital curriculum, our solution may not be the best fit for everyone.
But some teachers are strictly looking for coding resources -- not a full digital literacy and career readiness curriculum.
One of the most popular middle school computer science resources is Code.org.
With more than 1 million teachers using Code.org, it’s likely that you know someone who uses it in their classroom.
But just because other educators use it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you and your students.
So, should you use Code.org for your middle school computer science classes?
In this post, we’ll answer five common questions middle school teachers ask about Code.org:
- What is Code.org?
- What’s available for middle school?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the drawbacks?
- When does Code.org work best?
We’ll also share a few alternatives to Code.org to ensure you have the best resources for your needs!
1. What Is Code.org?
Code.org is a nonprofit organization focused on providing opportunities for any student to learn computer science skills.
To accomplish this, Code.org provides free access to computer science curriculum and resources for teachers and students from grades K-12.
So, what resources can you find on Code.org specifically for middle school classes?
2. What’s Available for Middle School Computer Science?
Code.org organizes its resources into three sections:
- Code.org curriculum
- Hour of Code activities
- Supplemental resources
Below we’ll dive into the details of what to expect from each type of resource.
Code.org Middle School Computer Science Curriculum
Code.org has developed full curriculum courses for grades K-12. The middle school curriculum is called Computer Science (CS) Discoveries and is designed for students in grades 6-10.
The CS Discoveries course is made up of six units:
- Unit 1 - Problem Solving and Computing
- Unit 2 - Web Development
- Unit 3 - Animations and Games
- Unit 4 - The Design Process
- Unit 5 - Data and Society
- Unit 6 - Physical Computing
Each unit is broken down into chapters that include lessons, activities, projects, and assessments for students to work through.
You’ll also find an abundance of accompanying teacher materials, such as teaching guides, lesson plans, rubrics, and discussion questions.
Overall, CS Discoveries is designed as a stand-alone curriculum that can be used in either a semester- or year-long computer science course.
Hour of Code Activities
The Hour of Code activities on Code.org are one-hour tutorials designed to introduce students to the basics of computer science.
These activities were originally developed to be used during Computer Science Education Week as part of the Hour of Code. However, anyone can access the activities to use any day of the year.
Each activity comes with a teacher guide that includes objectives, instructions, teaching tips, discussion prompts, and more.
Overall, these Hour of Code tutorials can act as stand-alone activities in a middle school class to engage students while reinforcing computer science skills and concepts.
Supplemental Resources on Code.org
The final resources provided by Code.org are the supplemental pieces that can be used in a variety of ways in your middle school classroom.
Some of these resources are designed to spark your students’ interest in learning about computer science. They can be a great way to lead up to your first coding lesson or activity.
Other resources can help build on the coding skills your students have already learned. These include simulated programming environments for students to create simple apps, animations, games, and webpages.
3. What Are the Benefits of Code.org?
Code.org provides three main benefits to middle school teachers:
- Flexibility of implementation
- Alignment to CSTA standards
If you’re like most middle school elective teachers, you have a tight classroom budget.
Luckily, Code.org provides all of its coding curriculum and resources for free.
That means you won’t need to blow your yearly budget on one resource.
Instead, you can focus on finding which pieces of Code.org best fit the needs of you and your students -- without the fear of a price tag influencing your decisions.
Flexibility of Implementation
Depending on your course sequence and standards, you may spend anywhere from a few weeks to an entire year teaching computer science skills to your students.
That’s why Code.org provides resources to fit into any length of time you need.
If you teach a semester or full-year course, CS Discoveries curriculum will help fill your syllabus.
If you only need a few activities and supplemental pieces, the other content on the website can help fill out your schedule.
Alignment to CSTA Standards
Many middle school computer science courses include similar objectives to those found on the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards.
These standards help you understand exactly what skills and concepts you should teach in your computer science classes.
Because of how important it is for teachers to meet their requirements, Code.org developed all of their curriculum in alignment with the CSTA standards.
With the ability to see exactly how the CS Discoveries curriculum meets your standards, you don’t need to spend time mapping them on your own.
4. What Are the Drawbacks of Code.org?
Though Code.org is designed to make it easy for you to teach coding in middle school, there are a few drawbacks to be aware of:
- IT requirements
- Learning curve to implement
Code.org IT Requirements
Like any digital tool, Code.org has IT requirements that could prevent you and your students from using it effectively.
These requirements include information on the best browsers and operating systems, along with websites that should be allowed on your school’s network.
If you show this information to your IT department and there are any issues, you may want to consider a different computer science resource.
In addition, Code.org notes that iPads and tablets are not supported for the CS Discoveries curriculum. So if your class runs on tablets, Code.org could pose some problems for you.
Code.org Has a Steep Learning Curve for Teachers
Code.org provides a ton of documentation to walk teachers through using its curriculum.
However, the amount of documentation can be overwhelming -- especially to someone who is new to computer science topics.
To help new teachers get up and running, Code.org also offers a professional learning program that includes a five day summer workshop and four additional sessions during the school year.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time (or money) to spare to take part in this program.
5. When Does Code.org Work Best for Middle School Courses?
At the end of the day, using Code.org for middle school coding classes depends on your needs.
Here’s how each type of resource from Code.org could fit into common scenarios we hear from middle school teachers.
A Full Computer Science Curriculum
If you need an in-depth curriculum for a specific computer science course, Code.org’s CS Discoveries curriculum could be a great fit.
The curriculum has flexibility with implementation, so it could work for either a semester or year-long course.
Supplemental Coding Lessons and Resources
If you need a few goodies to sprinkle into your existing coding curriculum, the Hour of Code activities and Code.org’s supplemental resources are a good place to start.
Any of these smaller resources could act as a great supplement to your current curriculum.
However, if you’re like most middle school elective teachers, you likely teach coding as only a small part of your course.
If you need something in between a full-blown computer science curriculum and supplemental resources, you may want to consider looking into alternative solutions.
Alternatives to Code.org for Middle School Classes
For middle school computer science, there are a number of alternatives to Code.org.
Some of the most popular options we’ve heard about are:
These resources are similar to Code.org’s Hour of Code activities. They are quick to learn and implement, with some resources to help guide the teacher.
The only downside is the lack of resources for teachers. If you use any of these alternatives, you’ll need to develop your own lesson plans, instructions, and assessments to measure student learning.
In addition, if you’re new to computer science you’ll need to find other resources to help introduce the core concepts and vocabulary to your students.
Start Teaching Computer Science Concepts and Skills Today
If you need a coding resource designed to help middle school students understand concepts, learn vocabulary, and build foundational knowledge consider checking out our Coding Fundamentals module.
The module includes teacher resources, classroom activities, digital lessons, mini-projects, assessments, and more.
It’s a great fit for any middle school teacher required to teach coding as part of an overarching computer applications or career readiness course.
That’s because the Coding Fundamentals module is just one piece of the Business&ITCenter21 digital curriculum.
Business&ITCenter21 contains more than 570 hours of content to teach digital literacy, career readiness, and computer skills.
Because of the variety of content available, Business&ITCenter21 is a good option for middle school teachers with standards that cover a wide array of topics and skills.
Overall, Business&ITCenter21 helps you save time with planning by providing lesson plans, class activities, digital lessons, projects, assessments, and more.