How to get students interested in coding

We started an after-school coding club in 2019 with the goal of introducing more students to coding and helping them develop their skills. It didn’t exactly go as planned.

We had purchased robots in the past but didn’t get much traction with them. They were too difficult for most of our middle-schoolers and the coding club didn’t really meet expectations either.

These less-than-stellar results sent us looking for an online coding learning environment — one that would be relevant for a wider swath of students and wasn’t relegated to coding during the school day alone. We wanted a program that students could use at home if they wanted.

We settled on CoderZ, an online platform that teaches coding through virtual robotics. It’s working well for us. It doesn’t have to be downloaded and students can run it in any browser. Last year, we had about 30 students participating in the program, with a smaller subset of them using it fairly consistently. We promoted the program more this year and now have over 70 students using it. Here’s what we did.

Let everyone try — then talk it up

We don’t choose who can and cannot join in; we give everyone a chance. We hand out Chromebooks so students — even those who don’t have technology at home — can participate. We got permission from our administration to have every student sign-in and try it during their free block of time. And we promoted the club during morning announcements to make sure everyone knew about it.

It worked. We have licenses for our entire school, as opposed to just 200 students last year.

Get girls onboard

CoderZ lets us see how our students are progressing through the program and offer them encouragement. This support has been key to currying participation and enthusiasm among our female students. One girl, after completing a final recently, said, “Oh my, I can’t believe how well I’m doing!” It was a huge boost to her confidence.

This was one of our goals — to bring more girls into the program. We wanted to introduce them to new skills and help them see career opportunities in STEM that they otherwise might not have considered.

Nurture team spirit

We wanted to build a sense of camaraderie and belonging among our student coders. We had T-shirts made with “Mad Coders” emblazoned on them. When our coding team participated in an online robotics tournament, we rallied to get the whole school behind them. We used the morning announcements to broadcast news from the competition — where the team was in the rankings and points scored — and to give shoutouts to certain students. They all appreciated it. It was almost as if they were on one of the athletic teams.

And then our community newspaper wrote an article about the students, two of whom made it to the finals this year. They placed third and each received $1,000 college scholarships. When they won, everyone won. It was a big deal around here.

Like many districts, ours is going through some budget challenges right now. Still, we’re determined to give students access to the coding software and to participate in more competitions. It’s been good for students and teachers. We’ve made great progress and we’re excited to see where it grows from here.