George Lucas Educational Foundation
Coding in the Classroom

Coding Across the Curriculum

With these apps and games, you can work coding lessons into any subject and any grade from early elementary through 12th.
A teacher and her students discuss the work on their laptops.
A teacher and her students discuss the work on their laptops.

What if I told you that there was a simple way to work programming into your English class? That coding and social studies could go hand-in-hand? It’s true—programming lessons aren’t just for math and science classes.

The tools below teach students about loops, conditional statements, variables, arrays, and other core coding concepts. And students can teach themselves through these coding games and programming projects, which makes it a little easier to incorporate coding into an already packed curriculum.

Elementary School

These sites and apps can be used independently by upper elementary students, and kids as young as kindergarten may have fun working one-on-one or in small groups with the teacher.

ScratchJr: ScratchJr is an app version of the popular Scratch site (below) that’s aimed at beginners. It’s a drag-and-drop coding language, meaning that users snap together colorful blocks on the screen to make their own programs that can do complex tasks, like tell an interactive story about something they’re learning. It’s a great way for kids to get interested in programming without needing to navigate programming terms like bool. (iOS, Android)

Scratch: Once kids are comfortable with the interface in ScratchJr, they can move online to a fuller version. The best part about Scratch is that kids share the games and animations they create on the site, so other kids can see their code and learn from it. MIT, which developed Scratch, provides resources for teachers, including tutorials and lesson plans. Consider having students build an animation in Scratch for their next book report—a modern, digital update for the shoebox diorama. (web-based)

Tynker: There are many ways to use Tynker in the classroom, some paid and some free. On the paid end, Tynker has a program for classroom use that teaches basic coding concepts without a lot of teacher input. Online lessons cover a wide range of subjects, like using coding to create a map of Pangea splitting apart for geography or an animation to quiz peers on types of government systems in social studies. And Tynker has pulled together some free games and activities for Hour of Code that can be used throughout the year. (web-based)

Middle School

Many of the tools here can be used by a variety of age groups. Scratch is very versatile that way—while elementary students get a lot out of it, it’s also used by middle and high school students to build projects with increased complexity. Similarly, while the apps and sites in this section are great for middle schoolers, students in upper elementary school may want to try their hand at Hopscotch or Blockly.

Hopscotch: Another drag-and-drop coding app that’s great for the classroom. Hopscotch specifically helps bridge the gap between ScratchJr and more complex drag-and-drop programs by providing a transition guide. Students can use this tool to add creativity to class projects—for example, by building an explorable map for world studies or making a quiz for a fellow math student to prep for a test. (iPad, iPhone)

Blockly Games: These web-based coding games go hand-in-hand with the main Blockly site, Google’s response to Scratch. Blockly is a great bridge between Scratch and more advanced coding languages because it still uses colorful blocks but introduces proper terminology. The 52 Blockly Games are arranged in seven categories that teach core coding concepts to get students familiar with computer language basics. The games are great for independent work time in a math class. (web-based)

Swift Playgrounds: Swift is Apple’s coding language, and this app is a great transition for middle schoolers who are moving from drag-and-drop to word-based programming. There are still blocks that can be tapped to create a program, but these blocks have the words of the command written on them—students can tap a block or type the command. These lessons—structured like coding puzzles—can be tucked into open time at the end of math class. (iPad)

High School

If your students are ready to move into word-based programming, try the tools below. While these may be enjoyed by someone comfortable enough with programming to sign up for an AP computer science course, they’re also for students who are just learning how to write a program or want to learn programming so they can utilize it for projects in a wide range of classes.

Code.org: JavaScript, HTML, and CSS are great language starting points, and Code.org has tutorials for students so they can learn how to build apps, design games, and build a web page. These self-guided units are perfect for students who learn best at their own pace and can be tucked into any science or math classroom. (web-based)

Twine: Ever wanted to walk around inside a story? With interactive fiction, you can. Twine is a simple-to-learn language that incorporates many facets of JavaScript and is perfect for new coders. Students can create web-based choose-your-own-adventure stories or use text to create a setting and then allow for directional exploration. For instance, students can build 19th-century London with words, and then allow the user to explore the nooks and crannies of Clerkenwell, maybe even running into characters like Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. This is the perfect language for learning core coding concepts such as loops, variables, and arrays, and it can be worked into any humanities course. You’ll find more ideas in my book on using Twine in the classroom. (web-based)

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Norah's picture
Norah
Early childhood teacher, writer, life-long learner

Great suggestions here, Melissa, thanks. I've used Scratch, but you've given me a few others to try as well.

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