Ages: 9 and upDeveloper: Vidcode Subscription Price: $ 20.00 per Year

Vidcode is a website that encourages preteens and teenagers to explore computer programming with JavaScript.  Through a series of tutorials, students begin by creating and modifying video and image objects, adding filters, text, and other graphics.  As the projects become more complex, the lessons cover all the basics of object-oriented programming, from simple linear programming to complex object properties with user interactions, creating games and simulations.  Programming is taught through interactive tasks, requiring minimal parental or teacher preparation and oversight, and teens are encouraged to add their own style and sense of humor to the projects they create.  Unlike many introductory programming sites, this successfully targets older youths without either being painfully cute or overcomplicating the coursework.  The look and feel are clearly for middle and high school:  users can choose from a generic library of images (including, for example, the well-known “Doge” meme star) or even upload their own videos and photos.  Completed projects can be saved and shared through the site.

Teens who are attentive and interested can learn up to AP-level computer programming in depth, and in testing teens had a lot of fun building the tutorial projects.  However, it is also far too easy for a less enthusiastic student to click through the tutorials without actively engaging, merely by copying the “hints” and using the preset code blocks.  When testers worked rapidly they came away with projects that looked impressive but without much new knowledge.  There is little verification that the work is actually completed correctly, so it is easy to make an error or miss a step, requiring frequent backtracking. There also do not seem to be any protections in place to prevent the use of inappropriate language or pictures (though the built-in libraries are family-friendly), so parents will need to be watchful.

The website-based courses work on desktop and laptop computers as well as on mobile devices, though in testing the mobile interaction (specifically on an iPad running Chrome) occasionally became sluggish, and the drag-and-drop interface of code blocks did not function seamlessly (usually requiring some code rearrangement after the fact, but not actually a major limitation). Vidcode is a reasonable $89 per year per student, with classroom pricing available for larger groups.  All packages include troubleshooting and support from the Vidcode staff. The first unit is available for free, as are multiple “Hour of Code” tutorials which branch out into more complex operations, so parents have the opportunity to work out whether Vidcode works for their own families before committing to the full subscription.


Emily Crawford ©2020 Parents’ Choice

Emily holds a BSE in electrical engineering and computer science from Duke University and a Master’s in computer engineering from Georgia Tech. She is a homeschooling parent and lives with her husband, three children, five cats, and thousands of LEGOs in Blacksburg, Virginia. .

Available here