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How Schools Use Codecademy to Teach Computer Science

Codecademy in the Classroom

Computer science education has been rapidly evolving over the last seven years. The number of students enrolled in AP computer Science Classes has never been higher. In tandem, instructors’ teaching methods are evolving as the demand for these skills increases.

Our data shows that, in school systems and extracurricular programs across the world, Codecademy has been an integral part of that evolution, with no signs of slowing down soon.

That’s why we took a closer look at how and why educators use our platform, which school systems are using Codecademy the most, and best practices for incorporating it into your curriculum.

Why teachers use Codecademy

We’ve seen that Codecademy is at least a component of educators’ computer science curricula around the world. I wanted to take things a step further and learn why teachers and administrators look to Codecademy as a resource, and to get a sense of the best way to include Codecademy courses in a lesson plan.

Gilberto Hernandez has been developing curriculum at Codecademy for 3 years. He helped create our Java, HTML, and CSS courses, all of which are among the most popular with users with EDU email addresses.

Prior to his work at Codecademy, Gilberto was a middle and high school teacher in Houston, Texas. He leaned on his perspective as a teacher and curriculum developer to share a bit of advice for teachers looking to incorporate Codecademy into their lesson plans:

“If I’m a teacher in a classroom, I’m thinking, ‘How does it fit into what I currently do? How can this fit into the delivery techniques that I use as a teacher?”

Codecademy's "Make a Website" course

He went on to explain how Codecademy might fit into the popular, 5-step lesson delivery framework that he himself used as a teacher. If you're unfamiliar, a version of the framework goes as follows:

  1. A “hook” to spark students' interest in the subject at hand
  2. A proper introduction to the new material
  3. Guided practice with that material
  4. Independent practice
  5. Evaluation

“In a modern classroom where we have access to Codecademy, you could use it in a variety of ways. You could use it as a hook—a lot of our lessons offer the first exercise as a hook. So we’ll give you example code run that runs an animation, something like that. After that the teacher might veer off into their own curriculum.

“The strongest component is guided practice because that’s exactly what Codecademy does, and I think that’s what draws so many people to Codecademy. I wouldn’t use it so much for independent practice but you could potentially use it as an evaluation tool.”

As frameworks and curricula continue to evolve together, teachers have to keep up with them and remain experts on the subjects they’re teaching. Gilberto explained that Codecademy can also serve as “a scalable way of providing strong professional development for teachers. So they’re learning while the students are learning.”

His final point may have been his most important—far from a full-scale replacement of teachers, at its best, Codecademy can make them better:

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be a replacement for teachers. If you’re going to use it in the classroom I think it will be more of a tool, it’s just another tool that you use in your classroom to help teach and that can help teachers become subject matter experts,” Gilberto said.

Which schools are using Codecademy

There’s no better place to look to as an example of Codecademy in school than Chicago’s public school system. Every fall since 2013, thousands of CPS students have signed up for Codecademy accounts.

When we first noticed this consistent trend of signups from students with Chicago Public Schools email addresses, we wanted to gather context on why the uptick occurred in 2013, and how the number of CPS student sign ups compares to other educational institutions.

We discovered that the timing of this spike in CPS learners aligns with the institution of the Computer Science for All curriculum in 2013. This change introduced a scaffolded approach to computer science education that exposes students to the subject at every level. That means computer science lessons in elementary school, computer science components in middle school math and science classes, and a compulsory, introductory computer science curriculum in high schools.

This scaffolded approach is reflected in the diversity of subjects and frameworks CPS students are studying with Codecademy. Rather than completing a bit of our Make a Website course and then moving on, CPS students are submit code in everything from web development frameworks to Python.

To better contextualize the number of CPS accounts on Codecademy, we compared the total number of code submissions on Codecademy for all users with .edu email addresses, dating back to 2012:


Ranking signups by Codecademy users with .edu email addresses by domain, year over year since 2012.

We found that students at large universities, like the University of Michigan, Arizona State University, and the University of California system, have also consistently signed up for Codecademy accounts at the start of every semester, but Chicago Public Schools students have stood above them all since 2013.

It's one thing to sign up for a Codecademy account and click around, but it's another to actually finish a course.

To get a sense of which students were actually finishing the courses they started in school, we compared the number of signups from .edu email addresses in 2017 to the number of course completions from those same accounts. CPS students still stood above the rest (though New Jersey Institute of Technology students were the biggest “risers” in these rankings. Go NJIT!):


Comparing signups by Codecademy users with .edu email addresses to course completions from those same domains in 2017.

Though the above analysis focused on schools in the United States, the trend of annual Codecademy signups isn’t limited to American students and teachers. The second-highest .edu user base overall? They’re in Australia—the New South Wales Public School system.

Code as a Second Language

Not every school district has adopted Chicago Public Schools' approach to computer science education. Due to a lack of available teachers and resources, many school districts in the United States are still lagging behind when it comes to computer science.

Luckily, a lot of ambitious people and organizations have stepped up to help fill the void.

Alberto Avalos is one such person. He’s an Innovation and Technology Program Manager at the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. In 2014, he co-founded HHF’s Code as a Second Language program.

Code as a Second Language, or CSL, started with the goal of supplying “introducing youth to computer programming to add to the growing pool of Latino and Latina entrepreneurial software engineers.” When I spoke to Alberto, he explained that he’d identified a huge need for CS education in his hometown of East Los Angeles, with no apparent way to get enough teachers into enough classrooms to meet that need fast enough.

His solution was to recruit a group of Fellows, mostly college students with programming backgrounds, to lead workshops around the United States. While incredibly talented capable, Fellows were not traditionally trained as teachers, so they couldn’t be expected to design and implement a curriculum themselves. Platforms like Codecademy made scaling CSL to where it is today—in 8 regions and 50 schools—possible.


Image via LOFTCSL.org.

Fellows lead three distinct CSL programs—Jams, Bootcamps, and Academies. Jams are 1-2 hour exploratory sessions that introduce basic programming concepts; Bootcamps are 4-6 hour crash courses in which students work through as much of an online lesson, like the Make a Website course on Codecademy, as they can in a day; Academies, as the name suggests, are structured more like traditional schooling—a series of hour and a half long sessions, held weekly or twice a week, that build on each other.

Codecademy paves the way to scalability for a program like Code as a Second Language, because the platform can adapt to the needs of the students being served. Students in Jams and Academies can use the same platform to study different frameworks with different end-goals in mind.

When I spoke to Alberto, he explained another reason the CSL program has gravitated to Codecademy for the past four years—the ability to save progress. 89.9% of students who go through a CSL program say they want to continue coding after the program is done. The goal of any program with so little time with students should be to spark a student’s desire to keep learning, and a Codecademy account makes it possible for motivated students to pick up right where they left off.

In conclusion

Computer science education became so important so quickly that demand for it ran the risk of outpacing supply. Fortunately, from massive public school systems to one-off coding workshops hosted by volunteer teachers, plenty of people are stepping up to meet the need for smart, scalable computer science education.

At its best, Codecademy can serve as a tool for these educators to better prepare the next generation for the challenges of the future. So if you’re a student or educator who’s used Codecademy to supplement your curriculum, we want to hear about it!

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