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Report: Gamifying computer science is an easy place to start

A new platform makes it easier for schools without computer science teachers to offer the subject to students

With efforts to expand computer science education growing across the nation, some schools still grapple with a big problem: they don’t have the staff or space to accommodate a computer science course.

In fact, though interest in computer science education, and access to it, is growing, a recent report found that not enough students are taking high-quality computer science classes at the high school and university levels.

The report found that just half of U.S. states actually count computer science as a math or science credit rather than an elective, and 29 states lack computer science teacher certification programs.

But a new approach that teaches coding through gamification makes it easy for teachers with zero computer science background to teach coding to students.

CodeCombat offers a game-based platform through which students learn coding in an engaging manner. And this fall, schools are introducing the platform as a way to connect students to computer science and coding in a more permanent way.

Next page: Two districts that are implementing the platform this fall

The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools is making CodeCombat available to its schools. Ascension School and Northside Catholic Academy are the first schools in the Archdiocese to implement CodeCombat.

Ascension School ran a highly successful CodeCombat pilot program for sixth through eighth graders during the spring of 2016.

“We were looking to expand our coding curriculum, and tested many offerings – with CodeCombat, we saw very high engagement among students, regardless of past exposure to computer science,” said Matt Mueller, a technology teacher at Ascension School. “Learning to code is an essential skill for the twenty-first century. We are excited to expand our relationship with CodeCombat, and looking forward to integrating it into all of our middle school technology classes this upcoming year.”

“I wanted to introduce a coding class to junior high, but we don’t have an availability for coding until they get to high school,” said Leigh Florita, junior high principal at The Academy of Charter Schools in Colorado.

But when Florita looked at teachers and facilities, she realized there wasn’t enough money to hire another teacher to teach coding. That’s when she stumbled upon CodeCombat.

This fall, a music teacher and science teacher in the junior high will teach coding as a semester-long elective.

“I heard there were options online–self-paced and self-guided. CodeCombat was 100 percent what I wanted, in addition to being engaging and gamified to keep students’ interest,” she said.

Having a trained computer science teacher is one of the more challenging elements when it comes to actually teaching it, said CodeCombat co-founder and CEO Nick Winter. With CodeCombat, he said, the game gives students feedback and students learn as they are engaged and progress through the game.

Today, Winter said, emerging trends focus on closing the gender gap and meeting schools’ demand for science education.

In recent years, efforts have been made to get girls interested in computer science, Winter said.

“So much energy is put into closing the gender gap there,” he said. “There’s a trend to make coding more social with more programming in pairs and group work. That appeals to girls more, along with tying computer science and coding to real-world creative projects. It’s a shift to project-based coding.”

Scaling computer science education to meet the needs of schools also presents an interesting challenge.

“People say, ‘Hey, our kids need to learn to code, here’s a mandate; everyone needs to take a computer science course,'” Winter said. “You have a race to scale it down to all students to help them be competitive and get them job-ready. It’s really exciting to go from no students having real computer science access to all students. With the shortage of trained computer science teachers, schools and districts realize they need something scalable and interactive to handle the load.”

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