November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Librarian Launches Indiegogo to Fund Hands-on Coding Blocks

Computer science is viewed as the new literacy, but some educators say the literacy aspect is being overlooked.

That’s why a librarian, a teacher, and a computer coding expert have teamed up to publish a series of books in which a “walking, talking coding block” character—named Cody Blox—takes on challenges “that only the power of computer science can solve,” says Laura Fleming, a librarian at New Milford (NJ) High School.

The books will accompany a set of actual building blocks that Fleming, Marcos Navas, a technology coordinator in the Union City (NJ) School District, and Joann Presbrey, a consultant and affiliate of Code.org, have designed and are selling through an Indiegogo crowdsourcing effort.

The colorful blocks turn coding into a hands-on activity that becomes a “great entry point” for students who have never used an online coding program as well as for those who are already familiar with basic programming, says Fleming. Students can use the blocks and the play mat that comes with them to act out coding instructions.

Coding blocks logo 500“It provides another modality,” she says.

Their crowdfunding campaign goal is to raise $35,000 so they can begin mass producing the blocks and make it easier for schools to purchase them. The effort, which runs through the end of August, has raised $6,048, as of August 25. All funds raised will go toward the campaign, even if the goal is not met.

A variety of sets are available on the site—from an introductory 12-piece set for $20 to a $1,250 order that includes 100 sets. Each set comes with a play mat to get students started. So far, the $375 Junior School Pack has been the best seller, Fleming says.

“Kids learn by doing, which is why Cody Blox are perfect tools to learn the basics of computer coding in a fun and engaging way,” Presbrey, who leads professional development workshops on computer science for educators, says in a campaign video.

Navas first created a prototype of the blocks on a 3-D printer. Fleming, Navas, and Presbrey envision the blocks and books being used not only in schools, but in doctor’s offices and students’ homes. Fleming says the manipulatives are also great for teachers who have been reluctant to integrate coding into their instruction. Navas, a high school educator, adds that even though blocks are involved, the materials isn’t limited to young children.

“Any one of my students is able to sit down and manipulate these blocks successfully, from our developmentally disabled students to our engineering students,” she says.

The blocks, adds Fleming, are also a way to introduce more students to computer science, including those who attend schools without sufficient technology resources. The books featuring Cody Blox are still in storyboard form, and Fleming says that her team is still working on how to get them published.

The “hook” for many educators who have used the blocks so far, Fleming says, is the connection to literacy.

“The book series bridges that gap between computer science and literacy,” she says. “We want computer science to be pervasive. We want it to be embedded across the curriculum and not taught as a separate thing.”

Linda Jacobson About Linda Jacobson

SLJ contributor Linda Jacobson is an education writer and editor based in the Los Angeles area.

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Comments

  1. These look fantastic! How can i purchase a set?