Coding is one of the most crowded categories in edtech. And while there are a ton of great tools for students of any ability level, many of these tools have hit on the same formula. So whether you’re prepping for Hour of Code or looking to launch a coding unit or curriculum in your classroom, lab, or library, it’s tough to find the right solution or even determine what separates one from another. Thankfully, there are a few developers out there breaking the mold and doing something different.

These developers are not just iterating on the tried-and-true coding formula but exploring new frontiers that offer students new ways to learn—from VR and hardware hacking to on-the-go learning to courses and curriculum that blend technical skills with “soft” skills.

Hardware hacking: Pi-Top and Piper
Computer scientists and software engineers know it’s important for coders to have an understanding of how computers are made and how they work. Knowing a bit about the hardware side of things helps inform a programmer’s understanding of why code works the way it does. As someone who likes to build his own computers, I can also say it’s just flat-out fun to put together a PC and swap in and out components. It’s like the nerdier version of hot rodding.

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Pi-Top and Piper both understand this, too, and have platforms that allow students—much like a littleBits kit—to assemble and modify modular computers that can then be used as coding platforms. On the coding side of things, Pi-Top has it own stylish game (CEED) students can use to learn about the basics of code, and Piper integrates with Minecraft.

Realistic, cross-disciplinary game design: Zulama
A lot of tools out there simplify game design, offering approximations of real-life coding that make it easier for kids to jump in and make something quickly. There are also pro-level tools such as GameMaker Studio that some enterprising teachers have adapted for student use. However, the real work of game design isn’t only coding games but conceptualizing them, building them, testing them, and marketing them. This is a process that requires more than technical skills, from storytelling to business to so-called soft skills such as collaboration.

About the Author:

Tanner Higgin is director, education editorial strategy at Common Sense Education where he leads the editorial team responsible for edtech reviews and resources. Previously, he taught writing and media literacy for six years, and has a PhD from the University of California, Riverside. His research on video games and culture has been published in journals, books, and online, presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to be cited and taught in classes around the world. Prior to joining Common Sense Education, Higgin worked as a curriculum developer and researcher at GameDesk, helping to design and launch Educade.org and the PlayMaker School. While at GameDesk, he co-designed the United Colonies alternate reality game (ARG) with Mike Minadeo. This ARG is to date one of the most sophisticated to be implemented in a K-12 environment. Outside of education, Higgin has been a technical writer-editor for the Department of Defense, a web designer, and co-editor and co-creator of a print literary journal.


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