Dec 082013
 

pylogoAfter 8 months of searching… I think I have found my Coding in the Classroom solution. What I was looking for was a product that gave me a means of some semblance of classroom control but gave the students the flexibility of an open learning environment. I also needed a product that gave me the confidence in saying “this is the one” to students, parents and administration.

What I have come to after months of searching is a Learn to Code solution called Grok Learning out of Australia. They have developed an all in one learn to code platform using Python as their first  offering and from what I have played with thus far, it looks to be a tight little package.

Being a coding neophyte myself, I needed something I could learn quickly along side my students but at the same time had enough complexity and sophistication to challenge the aspiring Wozniaks in the room. From what I have read, Python is apparently the way to go. It is easy to learn, teaches good coding practices and is similar enough to the C languages that learning C & C++ is easier once Python is in the bag. Besides, if Python is good enough for Google and NASA, I am guessing it is probably good enough for a high school classroom.

Some of the things I like about Grok are the following:

  • Browser based
  • Created by educators
  • No installations needed
  • Affordable(ish) $30 a head
  • Easy to set up online classroom
  • Student tracking and marking ready
  • Discussion forums to hash out coding challenges
  • Competitions to challenge students
  • Growing selection of tutorials
  • Downloadable resources
  • Custom courses available
  • Parenting Dashboard
  • Worked on my iPad
  • Live help

When speaking to the good folks of Grok, I mentioned that Canadian educators need an online classroom environment that doesn’t require ANY student information in order to comply with our privacy laws and they seemed to be willing to make that happen. As it stands, a teacher could still set up aliases for each kid and still be within the law.

The question you may now be asking is how Grok Learn To Code is different or better than the products already available? and to be honest, I am not completely sure. I have only just begun to play but at this point what I do like is the following.

Bang for buck – I originally looked at Code School. They provide a wide selection of courses, a really good delivery system and “team” discounts. Unfortunately, the cost is just way to much to ask kids or the school to pay. Sure if I was a good teacher, I would shell out the cash for it myself but I am a selfish sort and prefer to feed my kids so I passed

There are some Great Free Resources out there as well such as Code Academy, which my class is using now. They provide a very similar product to Grok including Python but it doesn’t give the teacher the opportunity to create an online classroom or delve into Python quite as deeply as Grok. In my opinion the ability to manage students under a single back-end interface is invaluable but being able to challenge the higher end kids is imperative. Grok also provides a unique level of support and opportunity for kids to interact with other young coders from around the world.

So after 6 short months and a long intensive search, I think I have come to a decision. it has been really quite astonishing how many learn to code options have come out of the woodwork while I have been looking. All offer a decent learn to code experience but at this moment… I think I will give Grok Learning a go for my coding program.

If anyone would like to give Grok a FREE trial run, they have given me 5 teacher subscriptions to give away. The first 5 insightful comments on this post will receive a link to join Grok.

Cheers,

Keith

 

  4 Responses to “Between a Grok and a Hard Place – Coding in the Classroom”

  1. Does the work students do count as “student information” in terms of BC (fairly strict) privacy laws? Here in NY, I’m pretty sure it does, so this is why I ask.

    I have another thing which is great about Python; it is open source. This means that students can potentially download a copy of Python and install it on their computer, and then continue to program outside of Grok if they want.

    I also suspect, because it is browser based, that there is some way for students to share their code with each other, which seems to me to be a critical missing piece of many learn-to-code-platforms I have looked at (the Khan Academy computer science section and the Scratch platform are notable exceptions).

    • Thanks for stopping by David, I appreciate you taking the time.

      As you know, the privacy issues we have to deal with in BC are muddy to say the least. Those of us who use all these great digital tools lurk in margins of our privacy laws trying to balance what is legal and what is a good learning opportunity.

      While student work can be considered “Personal” information, if it can’t be linked back to a specific individual then you are within boundaries but there is no way of ensuring that a student doesn’t post confidential information which does identify them.

      Between using aliases, permission forms and good old fashioned common sense, I think… I hope we can walk the thin blue line.

      Your free membership is on its way.

  2. My daughter found Grok Learning last night, linked from learn.code.org (which we heard about on National Public Radio, and has modules suitable for very young kids), and got extremely excited about the python modules there. She got much more engaged than I expected – who knew a pre-teen girl would have fun converting C to F in python? 😉

    Anyway, she worked through the free modules and then we went looking for other online tutorials – and I agree, the Grok tutorials are a lot nicer; they’re very clean, and somehow they really resonated with her.

    So anyway, if you’re still looking to hand out a subscription, I know one kid who’d be delighted. 🙂

    Thanks
    -Eric

  3. Thanks for the review. My son’s 4th-5th grade Montessori class is using the Intro to Computer Science tutorial on code.org. While I’m all in favor of this, my son and one of his friends have been coding in Scratch for years. We’ve been looking at moving on to Python anyway, so now I’m working with the teachers to get Grok set up for these advanced kids. If you still have free teacher memberships, I would love to pass it on to my son’s teacher.

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