Coding for kids has been a growing trend in the field of education in the last few years. Many teachers are interested in teaching their students how to code but are often unsure where to start. Teachers are trained in education, not in software engineering after all! Three years ago, I decided to take a course at the local Google office in my city to see what this whole ‘coding for kids’ craze was about! I won’t lie, I was very nervous. My strengths are definitely in the arts related fields and I was worried that I would leave feeling confused and bewildered. For some reason, the intrigue of learning about computer programming was stronger than my fear, and I decided to take the plunge! I live in Waterloo, Canada, which some refer to as the Silicon Valley of the North, so software companies are a major source of employment in the area. As an educator, I realized quickly that many of the jobs that my current students would be offered in the future, may in fact be related to or require some knowledge of computer coding. Teaching my students how to code would be a valuable skill that they could use in their future.
I was so excited to share what I had learned with my 6th graders upon completion of the course, I threw all of my plans out the window for next day’s class and decided to let them discover what was possible with coding instead. Turns out they were even more excited than I was! A year later, my school district decided to conduct a pilot project to discover innovative ways teachers could incorporate computer coding with common core curriculum standards. I enthusiastically volunteered to be a part of the pilot and was able to contribute some useful tips about my coding journey and shared what I had learned along the way! Read on for some tips to help you get started with coding in your classroom!!
1. Find a programming platform that is user-friendly, with topics of high interest for students. I personally love using CS-First as a learning tool to teach Scratch to my students. It includes detailed video tutorials that take students and teachers through a wide variety of projects from beginner to intermediate level of ability. Students also love the topics on CS-First, such as video games, fashion, music and storytelling, so there is bound to be something that appeals to almost everyone’s interests!
2. Use paper pencil coding activities to introduce the concept of computer programming to students BEFORE getting on a computer to write any code. I know this might sound a little mundane to some, but it’s important for students to understand the concept of code before asking them to create their first coding project. You can find many paper pencil coding activities online or check out some activities in the Coding Buddy Book I use with my students!
3. Invite some guest speakers, who are experts in the field, into the classroom to talk about what they do. They could range from individuals who love to create coding projects for fun or people who work in the field. Students may get to see an older student’s finished project and get excited about creating their own, or they may hear from a software engineer from Microsoft, who creates video games for a living. This gives students some context as to how they will be able to take what they learn and create whatever their imagination desires!
4. Plan to have students complete the first coding project in pairs. Learning to code involves a great deal of problem solving, which can be both overwhelming and discouraging when you ask students to complete a project by themselves for the first time. For instance, the very first coding course I attended, I understood a half of what the instructor said! I quickly realized the teacher I was sitting next to (whom I didn’t know) had the same blank look on her face as me and we quickly befriended one another to navigate our way through our first project together! Students are way more likely to be successful (and have fun) when they work with someone else on their first project. For younger students, I think it’s a great idea to work with an older learning buddy or book buddy. In my experience, the amount of assistance younger students need when learning to code for the first time is sometimes too much for one teacher! We can only be in one place at a time! Check out the Coding Buddy Book to see how to go about having students complete a project in pairs! Psst…By working with a partner, the amount of questions and requests for teacher assistance will be cut in half!!
5. Have a spot for students to plan and organize their coding projects that isn’t on the computer! If you don’t try any of these tips, make sure you try this one! If your school is similar to mine, you only have access to a full set of computers a few times per week or once a day. A lot of time can be spent ‘thinking’ when students are meant to be writing code. This valuable computer time will be maximized if students have a location to write down their ideas and plans beforehand. They can use a notebook or portfolio and refer to it when they are creating their project on the computer. My students now brainstorm, plan, revise and reflect on their projects in a coding portfolio. They love having one place to keep everything and I can quickly check their progress without having to log onto a computer! Check out the Coding Portfolio I developed to solve this problem!
6. Have high school or college students come into your class to assist! This can be a huge help to teachers when first starting out! Not only can they help your students, they can answer any questions you might have as well. Our school district is lucky to have students from two Universities in the area, who volunteer to come into elementary schools to help teach coding to kids. The local Google in my city has also taken time to train high school students in Scratch, to visit elementary school classrooms to teach code.
I hope these tips help you get started with coding in your classroom. Follow me for more blog posts about coding in the classroom!
Stay tuned for my next post: Tips to Encourage Girls to Code!