Showing posts with label Blackbird. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blackbird. Show all posts

Monday, August 8, 2022

Blackbird Provides a Great Environment for Teaching Coding

Disclosure: Blackbird is currently an advertiser on

Last week I wrote a lengthy blog post about how Blackbird can be used by anyone to teach coding. That post focused on how you can use Blackbird to teach coding even if you don’t have much or any coding experience and your students are new to coding as well. Today, I’d like to highlight why Blackbird is helpful even if you do have extensive experience teaching coding and or your students have a solid understanding of the basics.

Workshops, Warmups, and Code Review
While Blackbird offers four complete curricula for teaching and learning to code (JavaScript), you don’t have to follow any of those if you don’t want to. In fact, Blackbird has a feature called Workshop where you can create and assign your own projects for students to complete. Additionally, students can use the Workshop to create their own projects from scratch and have you review their code. And if your needs fall somewhere between using a premade curriculum and building your own, Blackbird offers a series of thirty warm-up activities and prompts to give to your students.

The Workshop space in Blackbird can be utilized in a few different ways. First, you can use it to create your own project that you then share with your students so that they can view and modify it. This set of slides and my video at the end of this post detail how you can create a project and share it with your students. Second, you can let your students create their own projects to share with you and or their classmates. They can use a little hand raise icon to indicate that they want you to review and comment on their code. The third way to use the Workshop is to let students explore sample projects provided by Blackbird and then modify those projects. Again, they can ask you to review and comment on their code.

It’s important to note that the Workshop in Blackbird can be accessed at any time. You don’t have to wait until students have completed a curriculum in order for them to use it. You could use it to supplement the Blackbird curriculum that you have chosen to use. For example, let’s say you’re using the Games and Animations curriculum and your students have just completed the lessons about points, lines, and squares. You could extend those lessons by creating a Workshop project in which students have to write a program to draw a cube or two cubes. When they’ve completed the project or they get stuck, they can submit their work for code review by you.

Code Review in Blackbird makes it easy for you to comment on your students’ projects. To do that you simply log into your teacher dashboard and select “Code Review.” You’ll then see a list of students who have submitted work for review. You can then view a student’s work and comment on it. You can also award digital feathers to students who have submitted projects. The feathers are like digital badges for a job well done. You can award feathers for whatever criteria you want to use, but if you’d like some guidance Blackbird provides a simple rubric to follow for awarding feathers (link opens a PDF).

Suggested Personal Projects in Blackbird
Many years ago (almost 20, where did the time go?) I taught a ninth grade language arts class. One of the challenges that I faced then was helping students start creative writing pieces. A colleague lent me a book of story starters to help solve that problem. I had a similar problem in 2019 when I asked students in my Intro to Programming course to design a project from scratch. Blackbird offers a solution to that problem of “I don’t know what to make” when students are asked to create a project from scratch.

Blackbird provides a set of three personal project starters for students. These are projects that students complete in their Workshops in their Blackbird accounts. Like other things made in their Workshops, students submit their work for code review by you. Blackbird includes rubrics for each of the three suggested personal projects.

Announcements, Grades, and Student Summaries
In last week’s post about Blackbird I included a video that demonstrated the basics of creating a class account through Google Classroom. You can also use Clever to create class accounts. A third option is to manually create a classroom in Blackbird. Whichever method you use to create your Blackbird classroom, you have access to the same tools for classroom management.

In your Blackbird classroom you can post announcements and reminders for all students to see. You can create grade reports to see all of your students’ progress in one place. And you can create reports to view an individual student’s progress.

How to Create and Review Workshop Activities
If you’re ready to give Blackbird a try for teaching coding this fall, watch the short video embedded below to see how to create Workshop activities for your students to complete in Blackbird.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Blackbird Provides an Innovative Way for Anyone to Teach Coding

Disclosure: Blackbird is currently an advertiser on

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?
The first thing you need to know about Blackbird is that it is not a block editor, it’s a text editor. In other words, through Blackbird students learn to write code (specifically, JavaScript) instead of positioning blocks to create a program like they would do in something like Scratch.

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 Ashley at Bellevue School District had to say about these topics.

Ashley 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.

Ben, a middle school teacher in Portland, Oregon, 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.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Blackbird Code - Overview and First Impressions from My Students

Last week I published a written overview of a new learn-to-code platform called Blackbird. In short, Blackbird is a platform that is trying to bridge the gap between using block editors like Scratch and making students jump into a full-fledged IDE without any built-in support resources. Blackbird teaches students how to write code (specifically, JavaScript) through a series of short, guided lessons before challenging them with some "workshop projects." Along the way there are plenty of easily accessible help resources for students to use without having to leave the code that they're currently writing. Watch this video that I made for a visual overview of Blackbird.

Initial Impressions from My Students
I have a small group of students taking a Computer Science Principles class with me. In the class there is a mix of freshmen, juniors, and seniors (sophomores are welcome to take the class, I just don't have any this year). Today, I used Blackbird with them for the first time. All of my students thought the first few lessons were "too easy" and they breezed right through them. But by the time they got to the fourth lesson in stage 1, they didn't feel that way. At that point they started to use the "show me" button in Blackbird to get a little help writing their code. All of the students felt like there was a lot of repetition which, as one student pointed out, is a good way to learn the language.

The exception to the above impressions from my students was one junior who had a lot of prior experience writing JavaScript. He ripped through all of the stage 1 lessons very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I challenged him to watch this video then try to code the Snake game. He accepted and will probably finish by the time class meets again on Thursday.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.