A Around this time every year I get emails that go something like this, “Hi Richard, I have a new job this fall and I’ll be teaching coding for the first time. Do you have any resources you can share with me?” Usually these emails come from folks who aren’t teaching coding as their full-time jobs but will be doing it under the banner of a larger title like tech coach, STEM teacher, or Makerspace Coordinator. If this sounds like you, Blackbird is a resource that you need to bookmark right now.
Blackbird is a free platform designed to make it easier than ever to introduce students to coding principles even if you don’t have any prior experience teaching coding. I gave it a try with my students at the end of the 2020-21 school year and we liked it. Since then Blackbird has significantly expanded their offerings by partnering with schools and listening to feedback from teachers and students. As we head into the new school year, let’s take a look at how Blackbird works and how using it can be beneficial to your students.
What Makes Blackbird Different?
If you’ve used block programming in the past and are now looking for something a bit more advanced, Blackbird is for you. That said, you don’t need to have any prior coding experience in order to use Blackbird. Blackbird will show you and your students everything you need to know in order to write code from scratch.
Lead Innovation at Your School!
The other aspect of Blackbird that makes it different from other learn-to-code services is that Blackbird is actively looking to partner with schools to develop curriculum that meets their needs. For example, take a look at this article about Blackbird’s work with Washington’s Bellevue School District where more than 400 middle school students learned to code physics simulations as an integrated part of their science classes. It was done that way to help students see computer science as a conduit to problem solving and not as just an elective course of study that stands alone.
The Blackbird Approach to Teaching Coding
Blackbird offers four curricula to choose from. Those are Games and Animations, Expressions and Equations, Magnet Rocket, and Ratios and Proportions. Whichever curriculum you choose, Blackbird works in the same manner. That manner is to start with a simple activity that makes a point or line appear on the screen. Students then see a split screen lesson that shows them some brief instructions on the left side of the screen and a code editor on the right side of the screen. It’s in the split screen environment that students write their first lines of code. See the screenshot below for a visual of what students see.
Students can work through the lessons at their own pace. There is a helpful “show me” button that students can click when they get stuck on a lesson. Clicking “show me” reveals the solution and its explanation. However, students still need to actually type the code in order to complete the lesson. And if you’re worried about students progressing too quickly and getting ahead of their classmates (or you), Blackbird’s workshop space gives students a space where they develop their own projects.
Blackbird makes it incredibly easy for you as a teacher to try all of the lessons that your students will do. All you have to do is sign into your teacher then click “learn” to see what your students will see. You can complete any and all of the lessons yourself and use all of the help tools like “show me” that your students have access to when they’re signed into Blackbird.
What if the kids know more than me?
When you’re teaching coding for the first time the fear that “the kids know more than me” is a very real one. Likewise, there can be a real fear that some kids will go way ahead of you and or their classmates. If that’s the case for you, consider what a teacher named Stephanie at Bellevue School District had to say about these topics.
Stephanie used Blackbird to teach coding as an integrated part of a science class. She didn’t have prior experience teaching coding and was worried that kids would know more than her and get way ahead of their classmates. She said having some students go ahead gave them leadership opportunities in her classroom. Additionally, she liked that it helped those kids build their confidence.
Another teacher at Bellevue, Ben, saw using Blackbird in his classroom as an opportunity for his class to feel like they were building something together instead of just following his instructions. He also mentioned in an interview with Blackbird that he liked the fact that using Blackbird moved the focus of the class away from him and onto what the students were creating.
Finally, I’ll remind you that teaching coding (or anything that you’ve never taught before) is a good opportunity to model lifelong learning for your students.
How to Start Using Blackbird in Your Classroom
Getting started using Blackbird in your classroom was easy when I did it sixteen months ago. It’s even easier to get started for the 2022-23 school year. You can register for a free account using your Google account, Clever account, or your email address. Blackbird will let you sync your Google Classroom rosters in order to create classes for your students to join. Alternatively, you can manually create classes for your students to join. Either way, once they’ve joined your class they can start on the lessons for the Blackbird curriculum you’ve chosen to use. And as you would expect, you can view your students’ progress in your Blackbird account.
Watch the video embedded below for an overview of how to use Blackbird to teach coding in your classroom.