Middle Schoolers Learn To Code With Blackbird
Written by Nikos Vaggalis   
Friday, 25 June 2021

Blackbird, an integrated learning platform featuring a custom version of JavaScript, specifically designed for use with middle school and high school students, has just joined the Google Cloud Partner Advantage Program.

As a result Blackbird now integrates with Google products like Google Sign In, Google Classroom, Chromebooks, and is listed in the Google Cloud Partner Directory, bringing it to a much wider audience.

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So what can educators expect from Blackbird?

Blackbird's version of JavaScript aims to advance student's skills from early block coding to programming with a real programming language, but with a twist. Instead of using pure JavaScript, it selects and modifies the parts usable in the education sector. In essence, Blackbird has created a Domain Specific Language, with the domain being the specific needs of the middle school; that is, learning by having fun through games and animation creation.

The rationale is that programming languages are used by engineers, thus they are not directly understood by other professions. For example, physicists know their domain, their calculations and formulas, but don't know programming enough to encapsulate those needs into code. And that is why DSL's exist, to enable those people express those requirements themselves in code.

Blackbird, aligned to Common Core, Next Generation Science and CSTA Learning Standards, takes that rationale a bit further than just modifying the original language. The need is for students to understand problem solving and algorithmic thinking rather than mere coding; after all not everybody will become a programmer. As such its language is dedicated to making that purpose as clear as possible.

Together with the language, Blackbird also launched an integrated web-based environment where pupils and teachers alike can learn to code and practice.

After login in into the platform, students are ready to start exploring the lessons. The scheme is as follows:

Students are guided by prompts and for example on the very first lesson they are assigned to:

create , position and draw Points on the canvas

since drawing points is a pre-requisite to making games.

They are instructed what to type, in this case:

var p= new Point();

and they have to type it on the accompanying Text Editor playground (think Codepen.io) and Run it in order to watch the effect it is having. If all is OK then you check your code to advance to the next level.

Helpful tool tips are provided over the concepts at hand so when you click on them you get detailed explanations.  Plus there's a Deep Dive section which goes over what the code is trying to achieve. What's also helpful is that while your program is executing, at the simplest level you get to watch the values that your variables are assigned to. There's also a dedicated Debugger with which you can step by step watch what your code is doing.

When the inevitable error happens, as part of the learning process, the feedback you get is helpful and to the point, delivered through uncomplicated language, suited to the age range addressed.

There's also a Workshop where you can code your on ideas free from the constraints of the curriculum and you can also share your code with Family and friends.

Needless to say, the lessons build up and suddenly you are able to build more complex projects games and animations, such as these done by some students:

Finale, a Space Shooter

Tether System

A Canvas Painting Animation

As far as the teacher, parent and instructor is concerned, Blackbird's integrated LMS enables them to easily track student progress, review code and make direct comments.

Blackbird begins with the first three stages (42 lessons) provided for free and upgrades with additional advanced lessons. available through an affordable pricing structure that includes full support and professional development.  As such I definitely recommend starting off with the free package and upgrade later if and when you see fit.

More Information

Blackbird

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Last Updated ( Friday, 25 June 2021 )