Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teachers in US and UK take the pain out of teaching with Code Avengers

In the past couple of months we had articles published in the CSTA Voice magazine as well as TCEA TechNotes newsletter. These magazines are targeted at High School teachers, and have led to an influx of over 150 teachers in the US and UK trying our site, with lots of very positive feedback.

Below is the full article:

Learning to code just got MARVELous with Code Avengers

CodeAvengers.com provides interactive online courses that aim to teach web development to High School students in the most fun and effective way possible. The Code Avengers lessons include short coding challenges, games and quizzes that introduce, practice and review new concepts. The lessons contain minimal text, so students learn the ‘what’ and ‘why’ by completing carefully sequenced tasks, rather than reading lengthy explanations. By providing a gamified learning environment with points, badges and themed lessons, Code Avengers is designed to keep the attention of teenagers who struggle with finding time for homework, but always make time for computer games.

Robot Challenge in Level 1 of JavaScript

Code Avengers also offers great support for teachers, by providing live updates of student progress. The class progress page empowers teachers to easily identify and focus on the areas that the class is struggling with as well as the individuals that need the most help.

Teachers view of students progress

Since Code Avengers is web-based, no installation of special software is required. This makes it easy for teachers to use the resource as both an in-class and homework activity. Whether in or out of the classroom students simply open their web browser to CodeAvengers.com and away they go.

Origins of Code Avengers

My motivation for starting Code Avengers came as I was trying to teach my teenage brother HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I initially introduced him to w3schools.com, a resource I found useful as a beginner; he tried the site but quickly got bored and stopped.

 Later I introduced him to LightBot, an online game that introduces the basic computer programming concepts of selection, loops and functions; he completed the entire game in a single day. His attention was also captured by the themed, game like code challenges of HackThisSite.org, despite the level of difficulty exceeding that of a beginner.

I tried many other free resources but none seemed provide what I need for my brother—a fun and effective web development tutorial for beginners. So I decided to create my own interactive tutorial, one that combined the beginner focus of w3schools, the fun factor of LightBot and the themed code challenges of HackThisSite. By doing so I hoped to make learning web development fun and maybe even addictive. To me, software development is such an exciting and rewarding activity. Why shouldn't learning the basics be just as stimulating?

But that was not my only motivation…

When I completed my final year of high school a decade ago, computing held the place of a “non-academic” subject, with no national examination and no points towards University entrance. Due to its inferior position in the high school curriculum, bright students were actively discouraged from taking it. Thankfully, the NZ Ministry of Education recognized the need for change. In 2011 a new “Programming and Computer Science” stream entered the year 11 (USA year 10) digital technologies course; rolling into year 12 in 2012, and year 13 next year. While, the new curriculum is a leap in the right direction, many of those teaching Digital Technologies don’t have programming backgrounds and find teaching the new material a challenge, especially given the lack of support, training and resources currently available.

Code Avengers to the rescue!

With this situation in mind, I planned to tailor my tutorials specifically to the New Zealand senior High School curriculum, with a focus on providing teachers with the support they need. After six months of development in my spare time, CodeAvengers.com went live in April 2012. Thousands of learners—including dozens of teachers in NZ and the UK—have used the site and given extremely positive feedback. At present Code Avengers contains two ‘Level 1’ courses that cover the NZ year 11 (USA year 10) web and programming curriculum. While targeted at senior high school students, the lessons have also been successfully trialed with younger classes. In the Level 1 HTML/CSS course, students create their own Superhero Profile as they learn the basics of web page creation in 20 short lessons with 5 tasks in each lesson.

Level 1 HTML course - Super hero Profile

For each task students read brief instructions, write HTML and CSS code, and then view their results in an embedded mobile phone emulator. Students are provided with a unique URL to view their profile on their mobile phone and share with their friends. Later lessons encourage students to collaborate by linking each other’s profiles and creating a Code Avengers team page.

The Level 1 JavaScript course contains 40 short lessons that teach data types, variables, if statements, string manipulation and while loops. Once students complete the course they can put their skills to the test by writing their own programs in the ‘projects area’.

So what are you waiting for, help your class become Coding Superhero’s with CodeAvengers.com!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Zealand Prime Minister Cuts His Teeth Programming Using Code Avengers

We have been having some great fun here in New Zealand. Check out this recent article about the Prime Minister writing his first line of code using Code Avengers!

PM learns to program the ‘Code Avenger’ way

While he’s unlikely to give up his day job, Prime Minister John Key has added another string to his bow – learning to write computer code in JavaScript.

Mr Key learnt his new skill during a visit to technology company Orion Health using a New Zealand-made learn-to-code software programme.

Created by PhD student Michael Walmsley, Code Avengers uses cutting-edge learning principles to make learning to code simple, fun, intuitive and addictive.

Using the Code Avengers programme, Mr Key was able to write his first lines of code and see the results within minutes – a digital avatar of himself.

Sporting an All Blacks jersey, Mr Key’s avatar flashed onto the screen with a message  saying “Leveraging NZ innovation to promote information science in schools”.

Orion Health test team leader Michael Trengrove, who guided Mr Key through his first coding lesson, explains.

“New Zealand is facing a critical shortage of IT graduates. Despite the massive demand for IT technicians across almost every industry, only limited numbers of young people are learning the skills that could see them landing well-paid jobs.”

“Part of the problem is the outdated perception that IT is the sole domain of geeks who spend hours staring at computer screens in dimly-lit rooms.”

“The reality is that IT is about working in teams to create innovative solutions to the problems people are facing.”

A lack of good resources for school teachers to use in order to teach the basics of IT is another part of the problem, Mr Trengrove says.

That’s where Code Avengers comes in.

As part of an Orion Health-sponsored project to teach coding basics to disadvantaged teenagers in Christchurch, Mr Trengrove tested two learn-to-code programmes – local product Code Avengers and US product Codecademy.

Released with a lot of hype late last year, Codecademy utilised its $10 million start-up capital to design a slick looking product with an impressive website.

Code Avengers, on the other hand, cost less than a $1,000 to launch with little fanfare and no fancy website (yet).

However, when it came to getting the teen coders to use the programmes, Code Avengers left its big, American rival eating dust, Trengrove says.

“The way the lessons are structured in Code Avengers is world-class. The students learn a new skill, they use that new skill straight away actually writing software and then they have a review.”

“The students learn in very small increments but they’re always learning. There’s very little written  documentation, it's mostly all hands on and the students pick it up very quickly.”

“We found with Code Avengers that although it didn’t have the $10m of venture capital behind it and it was developed by a single PhD student,  the pedagogy outstripped the well marketed American rival.

Leveraging NZ innovation to promote information science in schools

Friday, June 8, 2012

Code Avengers Trailers

OK... so normally the word trailer is reserved for a movie, which Code Avengers is not. But our ultimate goal IS to entertain... AND educate at the same time... so maybe trailer is the appropriate word??

Anyways, the feedback so far for the Level 1 JavaScript course has been fantastic. We have had hundreds, OK maybe more like a couple 100 or so, comment on how much fun they have had learning JavaScript with Code Avengers.

The great news is the NEW Level 1 HTML/CSS course is going to be even better-more fun, more effective. We promise to deliver the most fun online introductory HTML/CSS tutorial on the web! I'm planning to launch the first lessons by the end of this month.

For those of you who haven't tried Code Avengers yet we thought it was time we created a little video to give you a glimpse into what we are all about. Since, I am busy with my Uni work I decided to out source and commissioned my younger brothers Adam and Matthew to put something together. So here it is the official Code Avengers trailer!

A month ago I was contact by Jayce Broda the creator of HowToBecome.tv, he was keen to an interview about the creation of Code Avengers and my thoughts on being a software developer... Here is what Jayce came up with, check it out!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Code Avengers to the Rescue: Supporting Programming in Schools

As explained in my last post and in this video interview with HowToBecome.tv, the goal for CodeAvengers.com is to provide a super fun and effective resource for learning Computer Programming. In addition, Code Avengers aims to provide a tool that supports high school programming teachers.

Last year in New Zealand, computer science modules were introduced into our senior high school subject called digital technology. It seems that about half of our digital tech teachers have little if any programming experience, and are reluctant take on the new modules. That is until Code Avengers came along!

Code Avengers makes the teachers job easy. The system provides 2 views that give live feedback on students progress. The Summary View makes it easy for teachers to identify individuals that are struggling. The teacher can sort the list both alphabetically and based on progress.

The Progress View gives an overall picture of class progress through the course. It helps the teacher identify topics that the class need to spend extra time on.

What are you waiting for? Help you class become Coding Superheros with Code Avengers!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Code Avengers: High School programming the MARVELous way

Learning to code just got MARVELous @ CodeAvengers.com!

Code Avengers is an interactive online Javascript tutorial that aims to teach Computer Programming to High School students in the most fun and effective way possible. The site has been developed with a game like feel to help keep the attention of teenagers who struggle with finding time for homework but always make time for computer games. Code Avengers lessons include short code challenges, games and quizzes that teach and practice new concepts to ensure that the learner is retaining and understanding the material.

Code Avengers was created as a side project by New Zealand PhD student Michael Walmsley. His goal is to create effective learning resource with a gamified environment that makes learning fun and addictive--initially for web development but later for other subjects like math and finance.

Since going live on the 1st of April there has already been interest from over a dozen High Schools who are keen to use this as a resource in their classroom. Some initial feedback from teachers who have used the site personally are below:

Mark: “Love the site and the idea behind it. I would love to set my school up with this”

Malcolm: “This is EXACTLY the type of resource that should be made available to us!”

Jennifer: “I had a brief look at the site and it looks great. I enjoyed doing the first few tasks and will forward the site onto my Y12 Information Technology students as we are currently doing web design and some of them want / need to use javascript in their pages. Thanks for your hard work on this project and for making it so freely available”.

Julie: “Thank you so much Mike for developing these resources, this will be excellent for our students”.

Tim: “This is a nice package, and cleverly done! It's really valuable having the whole system in a web browser, as some schools find it very difficult to get software installed”

Corinna: “I have been trying out your program at home and I just wanted to let you know that I think it is amazing.”

The site contains a teacher's interface that gives immediate feedback on student progress which empowers the teacher to focus on the areas that students are struggling with as well as the individuals that need the most help. While the site was developed initially with the idea of helping High School students, Michael quickly found that anyone and everyone could benefit from using the style of lessons he has created.

Script your future with Code Avengers at http://www.codeavengers.com/

Any comments? Discuss and vote up on Hacker News?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Code Avengers vs Codecademy

Which site, CodeAvengers or CodeCademy is the more fun and effective way for a novice to learn Javascript online?

I enjoyed the lessons on CodeCademy, but had reservations as to whether the lessons would be effective for teaching complete novices computer programming. So I got 6 friends and family members (novice programmers) to spend 30-60 minutes going through 'Getting Started with Programming' on CodeCademy. 3 got bored, and a 3 thought it was OK. But all of them commented that they didn't really feel as thought they had learnt anything after completing the lessons.

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Codecademy.com since its launch in August 2011. Thousands of blog posts have been written, some positive, some negative.

Negative posts have critisized:

Positive posts praise Codecademy for:

The mission for CodeAvengers.com is to create a site that is both fun and effective for novices learning Javascript. Here is example feedback from initial users:

great job again, definitely addicted to this. Tried code academy was not addicted... I definitely believe you have a better product/lesson plan
I just wanted to start of by saying your website so far is better then Codecademy's

Anyone care to disagree? Try CodeAvengers.com now.

If you have another online tutorial for any language, that you believe is the most effective, we would love to hear about it!

Friday, April 20, 2012

CodeAvengers.com: Learning to Code just got MARVELous

After 6 months work as a side project, the time has come to launch CodeAvengers.com.

The goal is to create the most FUN and EFFECTIVE online computer programming tutorials. The site currently contains a Javascript course for beginners.

Try it NOW at CodeAvengers.com... or read on about what Code Avengers has to offer.

The Level 1 course, has 40 interactive lessons with 5 tasks in each. There are also points and badges to earn.

In addition to CodeCademy style code challenges, Code Avengers adds variety with:

Bug finding lessons,

The robot challenge, which requires you to write to code to move a robot to its goal,

And review quizzes that require you to zap the correct answers as they wizz around the screen.

Variety is one of the keys to making Code Avengers as fun as possible.

Here are a few comments from our first few users:

"This is a MARVELous tutorial. I feel I am really learning JavaScript now."
"This is great - best way to spend a few hours in ages"
"I really liked the idea of coding to do something, be it moving a robot or creating part of an application, rather than coding just for the sake of coding. It's certainly a lot easier to learn by doing than learn in the abstract. Thanks for the great site!"

What are you waiting for? Script your future @ CodeAvengers.com!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Origins of Code Avengers

In June 2011 I began teaching my younger brother Javascript in the hope that he could help me with some web apps I was developing. Initially, I directed him to w3school.com, a free resource I found useful when learning Javascript. I liked the ability to be able to type code, click a button and immediately see the results. My brother read a couple of the tutorials but didn't find it fun enough to maintain his interest. He claimed he was too busy with school work, and yet I always saw him playing games on the computer.

In contrast when I had shown him a Flash game called Light Bot, which taught computer programming concepts, he sat down and completed all the levels in a single sitting. I decided that if I was going to get him to learn programming, he needed a site that was more game like. Greenfoot was another another project I discovered that is along the lines of what I am thinking, but is for learning Java.

I searched for resources that were both FUN, FREE and at the right level of difficulty for my brother. I found a site called Code School that looks really nice and had great videos that accompany their interactive tutorials. The difficulty level it was OK for my brother, however it was not free and did not have Javascript lessons. I found some other sites that were quite fun, but were targeted at people that could already program.

In mid-September, 2011 I began creating my own interactive programming tutorials that I initially called AI Master. My goal was to make them fun and challenging. He enjoyed the 1st tasks I created so I made a few more.

Also, In September I discovered a new site called CodeCademy that had gone live in August, which was the closest thing to what I envisioned creating. I tried the lessons myself, and then on several family members. The site looks great, the difficulty level was perfect for beginners and they covered a lot of material in a short space of time. However, none of my testers really felt they had learnt anything by the time they got to the end of the lessons. Furthermore, none of my testers described the lessons as FUN.

In late October CodeCademy announced over a million $$ of venture capitalist funding. Over the past 5 months both the site and its lesson content have evolved into a fantastic free resource. However, I still believe there is room for improvement in the design of the lessons. Furthermore, it has to be possible to something that is more fun and game like.

On 21st November 2011, I sat down with my siblings to discuss possible names for the site I was creating. We decided Code Avengers was a good choice since the movie The Avengers was coming out in May 2012 and codeavenges.com was available. At that meeting we also decided I should begin create lesson material for absolute beginners. My sister said she would work on a logo, by brothers would help out with testing and marketing the site when we got to that stage.

That night I registered codeavengers.com and the following week uploaded the 1st version of Code Avengers.

New High School Computer Science Curriculum in New Zealand

In 2011 New Zealand introduced computer programming 'NCEA Level 1 Achievement Standards' into its secondary school curriculum for year 11 students. In 2012 standards became available in year 11 and year 12, and next year will be available for all 3 senior years of high school. It is hoped that the introduction of the new curriculum will increase the number of well prepared students that come into our University computer science classes.

The new Computer Science curriculum is a great improvement on the old curriculum and is definitely a step up. However, one of the worries is that many of the teachers are not familiar enough with the more advanced material to teach it. Furthermore, there are a lack of resources available to teachers. Creation of resources to supplement the achievement standards is left up to the private sector, and it may take a year or two for companies to develop workbooks for the new standards.

Code Avengers has been created with the new NZ curriculum in mind. The Code Avengers Level 1 Javascript Course covers the concepts in the NCEA Level 1 Computer Science achievement standards. Future Javascript courses will cover the computer programming concepts in NCEA Level 2 and NCEA Level 3.

Code Avengers also has a teachers only page that gives real time feedback of student performance. This allows teachers to easily identify the students that need extra help with the material. Code Avengers simplifies the administrative work for the teacher, allowing the teacher to focus on teaching.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to get 10,000 likes on Facebook

As software developer I love to build things but have almost ZERO marketing experience. So after 6 months building Code Avengers 1.0 we were ready to launch.

My equally inexperienced brother Adam (1st year marketing student at University) suggested we start by trying to get 10,000 Facebook likes in 4 weeks. It sounded like a tall order, but worth a shot.

On day one he put up the following post...

Hey everyone,

When you have a spare minute, can you go to our new website for learning computer programming. CLICK the 'LIKE' button in the top left hand corner. the link is http://www.codeavengers.com/

Our goal is to get 10,000 likes by the end of the month. Help make this possible!!!!!!! Thanks!!!!!!!!

To begin with my immediate family shared the message on each of our FB pages as well as our extended family FB group (if we can't get our cousins to click like... we got no show of getting 10k). Within 6 hours the site had received 124 likes. OK... not bad... but I could tell 10k was not going to be easy.

So how would we get the other 9,876 likes?

The more activity (comments, likes, shares) there is with a post, the more likely that post will stay on your friends news feed long enough for them to see it. So how do you get people to like and comment on your post...

A quick look at my news feed revealed the following types of posts seemed to have a lot of activity...

  1. Pictures of babies
  2. Posts that concluded with a simple but often random questions
  3. Posts from pages with thousands of followers, e.g. famous actors and TV shows
  4. Pictures of people (particularly famous people) doing weird things
  5. Emotional stories or pics on topics we can all relate to

We both failed to come up with any creative ideas that fit any of that criteria.

Adam figures that all we needed was someone like Bill Gates to endorse our page and we will have the 10k in a day or so. So Adam went straight to Bill Gates Facebook page and sent a private message... Surprise, surprise no message back.

Adam also reckons he has a couple friends that wield a bit of FB power. One mate from the US has 5k FB friends and gets 300 likes on random comments he makes. Turns out his level of influence with Code Avengers was negligible...


So it turns out there was no quick and easy path to 10k likes. Two and a half years of hard work later, we are getting there. Now past 6,000 likes but still a long way from 10k!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Web app goes LIVE! But how do I get users?

After 6 months of development... Code Avengers finally went live on April 1st 2012. What do I mean by "LIVE"... essentially we replaced the old home page which showed a COUNTDOWN to April 1st with a new home page that links to the lesson material. With the site now live and ready for public consumption... the next task is figuring out how to get people to the site?!?!

So how do we market a site like this? Here are our ideas so far...

1. Social media - We will post to Facebook and share with Facebook friends. I don't have many FB friends I think would be interested in learning Computer Programming, so not sure how much success this will have. We added FB like and google plus buttons to the pages on our site and created a Facebook page and Twitter account. And today I created this blog.

2. Bloggers - Email people who have blogged about CodeCademy and other sites similar and ask them to write about CodeAvengers. It seems that one of the keys to going viral is getting influential bloggers & tweeters to write about your site. When I say influential I'm talking people with 200k plus followers. Want some evidence, check out the graph in this link (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jjcolao/2012/03/22/codecademy/2/) that illustrates the influence of hot shot tweeters in the success of CodeCademy's Code Year marketing strategy.

Or checkout this TED talk that includes examples of the influence of top bloggers on viral YouTube videos...

3. News sites - Email people who wrote news articles about CodeCademy and see if they will write one about our site. Just like influential bloggers, influential news sites can have a big effect!

4. Comments - Write comments after news articles and Blog Posts about CodeCademy. Also post a couple responses on question answer sites like Stackoverflow, Yahoo and Quora.

5. YouTube - Email people who have created YouTube videos about CodeCademy. Also get my 8 year old brother Matthew to make and post videos about our site. An added bonus of this idea is it will get him out of mum's hair for a few hours. Two drawbacks with this idea are even with YouTube videos posted... you still have to get people to watch them. Number 2, I will have to broker a deal with mum to get Matthews 1 week ban from the computer (for playing games when he wasn't supposed to) partially lifted.

Well that's enough for now. We will have a go at the approaches above and see what happens in a week...