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CodeHS

by Kate Meersschaert

July 08, 2013

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I have seen what CodeHS can do for the overachievers, the underachievers and all of the other students labeled by traditional education methods....I have watched CodeHS do what nothing else has as far as I know: remove the labels from learners and truly encourage them to be not just learners, but thinkers (CodeHS User Testimonial).

Plug & Play CS Curriculum
CodeHS was created by two Stanford University Computer Science program graduates, Zach Galant and Jeremy Keeshin and incubated at Silicon Valley-based edtech incubator, Imagine K12. The unique program works WITHIN schools and WITH educators to help support and augment an existing Computer Science (CS) curriculum or allow them to build an entirely new turnkey program. The program can also be accessed directly by anyone at home. The program includes a library of resources ranging from videos with built-in browsers that allow users (including teacher facilitators) to learn to code JavaScript along with an animal avatar, Karel the dog. Additional resources include curriculum materials and virtual tutoring sessions.

You CAN Teach an Old "Dog" New Tricks
Karel, the platform’s animal avatar, guides participants through a set of code writing exercises culminating in the development of a finished project, an online game. The founders explain the reason they chose Karel to New Learning Times (read the exclusive interview below), "giving instructions to a computer is just like giving commands to a dog." Once users input their code into the platform’s browser they receive instant feedback, tips and have the option of asking for help from dedicated CodeHS tutors before advancing to new content. In addition, to a mastery learning-grounded curriculum, educators are provided with detailed student performance metrics. This unique approach provides "just-in-time" assistance to educators who want to learn to program along with their students or simply remain one line of code ahead. For programming-phobic educators, this support just might translate to classroom adoption.

CS Catch-22
Working within the current education system, which is often viewed as too "slow" and deeply entrenched to integrate rapidly evolving CS skills, is fresh and different. According to a recent TechCrunch article, "Today, computer science is absent in 95 percent of high schools in the U.S. ... developing curriculum for these subjects requires time and expertise, and finding the qualified candidates to teach these subjects demands significant capital to lure talented programmers away from high-paying jobs in the private sector. " Unlike 1-in-a-million programs like NYC-based public high school, Academy for Software Engineering CodeHS programs can be dropped into any existing program with adequate administrative support, thereby creating a standalone "pop up" learning experience and avoiding the need to go too far outside the system to create change. Unlike more entrenched subjects that are highly standardized and tested, computer programming is still very much an elective. However, if you hope to find employment in the 21st century world, the ability to "speak" a programming language is becoming increasingly essential and a "must-have".

Working Within the System
Why did the founders of Code High School choose to work within the current educational system and school day? Jeremy Keeshin, co-founder of CodeHS explains to New Learning Times, "There are lots of educational resources available online, but that doesn't mean students are getting access to them. Most students around the country are still going to high school, so that is really a good channel to introduce them to these topics." Keeshin goes on to explain, "The problem CodeHS is trying to solve is that most high schools don't have computer science, and aren't able to find a computer science teacher. We want to allow high schools to bring a fun and accessible CS program to their school." CodeHS has the potential to help transform learning from INSIDE the curent educational system.

Exclusive NLT interview with CodeHS co-founder, Jeremy Keeshin

Question: What elements of your educational experience inspired you both to create CodeHS? Did you learn to code in HS or only once you attended Stanford?
Answer: We were both TA’s at Stanford for three years where we were very involved in helping to teach intro computer science. I had a simple website when I was younger, and took my first programming class in high school.

Question: What elements of the ImagineK12 incubation/accelerator experience allowed CodeHS to thrive and move past an idea/MVP?
Answer: There are a lot of really good education technology companies coming out of ImagineK12, and there are a set of similar challenges that the companies face in trying to work in the education space. It is helpful to hear from others' experience, and also to get advice from the IK12 team. CodeHS was already past an MVP by the time we started IK12, but it really helped us learn more about working with schools.

Question: What unique problem(s) is CodeHS trying to solve?
Answer: The problem CodeHS is trying to solve is that most high schools don't have computer science, and aren't able to find a computer science teacher. We want to allow high schools to bring a fun and accessible CS program to their school.

Question: Why did you choose to focus on working within the existent education paradigm & not create an alternative platform for independent learning like a MOOC?
Answer: There are lots of educational resources available online, but that doesn't mean students are getting access to them. Most students around the country are still going to high school, so that is really a good channel to introduce them to these topics. We work with individuals of all ages as well.

Question: Can your program be used by a learner without a teacher/facilitator and outside of a school?
Answer: Yes, we have had students 5-85 from all walks of life learn on CodeHS!

Question: Who benefits most from your program? Learners who are struggling to learn CS within an existing program, or learners who have NO CS options within their school? Some blending of both?
Answer: We try to work with existing CS programs to help bring a more accessible approach, and with schools that don't have it, we give them an option to get started.

Question: Why Karel the dog as the platform's guide instead of a human avatar? What was your inspiration?
Answer: Karel is a good metaphor for starting to learn to program. What we say is "giving instructions to a computer is just like giving commands to a dog."

Question: Why did you choose JavaScript as your introductory language?
Answer: JavaScript is the language of the web, and allows all of the code to easily run in the browser.

Question: How do you hope CodeHS will evolve in the next 6 months?
Answer: We are working with schools all over the world, so we are excited for many schools to get started using CodeHS next year.

Question: What is the best compliment you have ever gotten re: the platform from a user facilitator?
Answer(s): "Your program is so fun my class has begged me to allow them to go on coding."

"CodeHs has literally given me the next step I needed to progress the completion of my goals in life. "

"I have seen what CodeHS can do for the overachievers, the underachievers and all of the other students labeled by traditional education methods....I have watched CodeHS do what nothing else has as far as I know: remove the labels from learners and truly encourage them to be not just learners, but thinkers."

Image: Logo (via CodeHS)