Science & Tech

Kids Need to Learn to Code: Here’s How to Do It Right

Learn to Code

 

No matter their interests, Kids will find fun in coding

Guest Post: Laura Giuggio, Technology Integration Specialist

My motivation came from a workshop. THE workshop in my career that changed everything. One Saturday afternoon in Holyoke, Massachusetts in January 2015, I was going to learn to code.

I went into the workshop convinced I was going to be clueless. What did I know about coding? My last attempt was in 1988 when I saw a blinking cursor on a screen and had to write in lines of code to make the computer work. Didn’t innovation and my new Macbook Pro eliminate the need for this knowledge?

Was I ever wrong! Here is what coding is today:

Code is one of the world’s most widely used languages, and our students need to be literate in its language. In addition, coding empowers kids and teaches them:

  • Problem solving
  • Computational thinking skills
  • Critical thought
  • A way of thinking that applies to many domains
  • Effective collaboration skills, and
  • How to unleash their creativity.

There is no doubt in my mind that coding is a critical step in preparing children for their future.*

I had no idea coding encompassed so much! I couldn’t wait to share what I had learned with the 410 K-5 students I teach. Returning to school, I immediately set up a FaceTime call between my students and my niece, Jaclyn Coleman, a software engineer at Google. The children were really able to get an understanding from her of what coding encompasses and how it applies to every subject they learn as well as how they complete daily tasks.

 

Learn to Code

We started our coding journey together with Code.org! Code.org is an excellent program that teaches the fundamentals of coding in an easy to understand and a very enjoyable way. When the kids learned they’d be playing Flappy Bird, Minecraft, Frozen and Star Wars, they very quickly got on board!

Code.org has free courses geared toward all ages and that motivate students to develop skills such as sequences, loops, Internet safety, perseverance, conditionals, algorithms, binary code, debugging, and digital citizenship. The “unplugged” lessons allow for teachers and students to learn without computers. We did a “loop” dance party to teach the concept of looping. Three years later, I still overhear students say, “We could use a loop here,” followed by some singing and dancing to our looping song.

The learn to code courses are sequential, and each one adds to the knowledge gained from the previous course. Many families work through the courses together at home. By the end of each course, students create interactive games or stories they can share with anyone.

Learn to Code

Phase 1: Getting Started

One thing I noticed is that the learn to code courses foster such a collaborative environment, one that really emphasizes risk taking.

After going through the courses, learning the nuts and bolts, and having a great time in the process, we were ready for the International Hour of Code, the global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Students in first to fifth grade participated, continuously coding for one hour. They were beginning to see how these skills would connect them to the world.

Students recognized how this new language, this new literacy, spills into everyday life with comments such as:

  • Coding helps me with my writing, to get my thoughts in order;
  • I can organize my day better now;
  • You know what? Math is becoming easier for me;
  • I now pay attention to details; and
  • Coding helps me visualize directions.

In summary, “Coding changes the way students think!”

 

Phase 2: Expanding Your World

Our second phase was expanding into new Learn to Code programs. Our goal was to take what we learned from our code.org courses and apply it in other programs.

These learn to code applications help students learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively – essential skills for life in the 21st century. If you think about it, in order to learn to read or solve math problems, students have to understand order, sequencing and problem solving in a systematic way. Coding helps them do just that. It’s an open playing field – I’ve seen students who have a hard time concentrating become so engaged; students who struggle academically become the person other students are going to for help; and all students are being challenged and bringing their own innovative ideas to fruition.

Try these Learn to Code resources:

Kodable – Kodable follows a set of objectives focused on programming standards to teach JavaScript

Scratch – A free program designed by the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten group.  When children learn to code in Scratch, they learn important strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas.

Scratch Jr. – Coding is the new literacy! With ScratchJr, young children (ages 5-7) can program their own interactive stories and games and share them with others.

Lightbot – Introduces more complex principles of programming. Children learn concepts like loops and if-then statements.

HopScotch – If you can imagine it, you can create it! With this program, students learn to make their own games, drawings, mini-websites, pixel art, and more.

Swift Playgrounds – An app introduced by Apple, students take on a series of challenges and then step up to more advanced creations.

LEGO Bit by Bit – Solve challenges by figuring out which programs are needed, through creating sequences that tells “Bit” what to do.

67 Code Sites by Grade Level  – Bonus site!

 

Learn to Code

Phase 3: Learn to Code with Robots

Our third phase can be described in one word: Robots! Some concepts of coding can be too abstract to engage young minds. To move from focusing only on screens, I wanted them to be able to use their hands to manipulate things and bring the concepts to life in a physical form. Working with a three-dimensional object and being able to program it provides students with a tangible representation of their code. Our students were ready to take what they learned to the next level.

We started with Finch Robots, that used the programming software Scratch and Snap. Having already learned Scratch, and with Snap being so similar, the children were off and running! Their favorite thing to do was to program these robots to enter the principal’s office while they hid outside the door with their laptop. Of course, Principal Hutton then invited them in to demonstrate their coding knowledge. We then acquired Bee-Bots, which teach control, directional language, and programming to younger children. By creating mats relating to curriculum, such as shapes, compound words, math facts, and parts of speech, we combined programming with learning the curriculum. What a win!

Next, we introduced Dash and Dot robots, which use an app called Blockly to program. This robot responds to voice, navigates objects, dances, sings, and allows students to create new behaviors. Its companion robot, Dot, represents the brain of a robot and allows students to use it to send messages to Dash. The children love these robots and the programming they’ve done is astonishing for me to watch. All three of these robots really tap into a side of children that they just wouldn’t experience in any other subject. It’s remarkable to watch what they come up with next!

For our school, coding and programming has become a group effort. We are no longer just teachers and students. We are one collaborative coding team. I learn more from my students now as they’ve taken this whole concept and made it their own. Students come to me every week with their ideas of what we could do next. I just make sure to have what they need to implement them. That is success.

 

Learn to Code

Phase Four: Expand the Field

Courtesy of a grant from our in-town educational foundation, the Longmeadow Educational Excellence Foundation (LEEF), we have been able to grow Learn to Code resources considerably. Through their funding, and the research of our students, we’ll introduce the following materials to all our students next school year:

 

Phase 5: Showing it off & Recruiting the Next Generation

Every two years, our school district has a Technology in Education Showcase where we invite any and all students who want to demonstrate coding. I ended up with more than 30 presenters from grades K-5, a considerable increase from the five students I had last showcase.

These students, from all academic backgrounds, took ownership. They came up with the ideas and planned exactly what they wanted to do. I had students working with each other on the most revolutionary ideas – instead of me explaining what I wanted them to do – they were the ones showing (and teaching) me what they were doing! Just some of many projects I saw:

  • Fifth-graders taking students through a Scratch program they created to teach others how to use Scratch
  • Kindergarteners teaching their sight words to other students through the use of Bee-Bot
  • Fourth graders who had spent months of their own time preparing, not only showing their own Little Bits inventions, but also teaching visitors how to create them.

Isn’t this exactly the kind of transformation we want as our children become educated? Their vision, passion, and dedication were palpable.

Coding is a tool that gives kids the ability to look at the world very differently. But most importantly, when you introduce your child to programming, as MIT professor, Mitchel Resnick says:

“He/she’s not just learning to code, but also coding to learn.”

For my students, the Learn to Code program isn’t the end result; making something is – through trial and error and learning basic skills in the process. To be able to take those skills into any area presented to them, students are simply thriving.

Tell us in the comments below about your own experience as your Nerds learn to code. We’d love to share your experiences with the rest of our Nerding community!

About the Writer:

Laura Giuggio is a Technology Integration Specialist at Center School in Longmeadow, MA. Twenty-six years ago, she began integrating technology through teaching multimedia project design to thirty 8th graders using ONE laptop!!  She hasn’t slowed down since (however, she now has more devices). She is the recipient of The 2013 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award.  Her enthusiasm encourages children to tap into their creativity, take risks, and discover the unknown. Check out her blog Center of Technology and follow her on Twitter @Giugg24.

 

* From code.org workshop at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC); credit: Susan Reily, Technology Integration Specialist

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