Demystifying Teaching Coding in K-6

From a few Professional Development workshops on Coding I have run recently, I have found most teachers to be relieved after my sessions, realising that teaching the beginnings of coding and computer programming to K-6 students is not as daunting as they first thought, and there is a lot of help and support materials available. They have also had a lot of fun trying the apps and robotics themselves, and realise if they are having so much fun, that the kids will love it too!

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Coding Principals

When you break down coding into the principals, I show teachers that they are already teaching some of these things, such as Decomposition when they talk about breaking down story writing into sections or Pattern Recognition, which is taught in maths and even finding rhymes in poetry. Some of the terminology can seem daunting at first, but the much of essence of the thought process is already being taught.

‘Unplugged’ coding is also a great exercise in the classroom, teaching the skills and thought processes. One of my favourites is this teacher being a Jam Sandwich Robot, showing how precise instructions need to be,  but not using any technology at all. Listen to how much fun the students are having, but they are learning valuable lessons about coding.

Trial and error

I think this is one of the greatest lessons in teaching coding and robotics, that when it doesn’t work, you keep trying until you get it right. It is not a devastating ‘failure’ when your character goes too far off the screen or your robot runs into something, you just adjust the code and try again until you get it right. Just as teachers in my workshops learn from trial and error, so do the students. In coding and programming, you hardly ever get it right first time, it is a process.

Games and Robotics

By showing teachers game-style apps such as Lightbot, which teach planning and coding concepts, they learn that learning about coding is not all about confusing-looking syntax but can be fun and educational. Teachers enjoy these games, and feel the same sense of achievement (and sometimes frustration when stuck on a level!) that students do. It is gamification and fun while learning.

Robotics such as Sphero and Lego WeDo 2.0 are fun and bring coding to life. The trial and error can become quite entertaining in the classroom!

Learning Support

Many of the coding and robotic resources aimed at education have fantastic lesson plans and instructions that can guide teachers inexperienced with coding and offer scaffolded structure and support. Many of these are free. Sphero, Scratch and Lego WeDo 2.0 are just some examples. Sometimes it is knowing where to look. Lessons such as this, are great to get started with. Apps such as Hopscotch, with demonstration videos playing in the corner of the screen, also allow students to work at their own levels in the classroom.

Cross-curricular activities 

Rather than always teaching stand alone coding lessons, tie it in with lessons you are already teaching. Coding has obvious links to Maths and Science but consider Literacy. For instance, after a creative writing task, have the students create an animation of the story in Scratch or Scratch Junior or then design a game based on the story with Hopscotch or Pixel Press Floors. Ot alternatively, after the coding activities have the students write a creative story based on the game, or interview one of the characters. Link with a unit on the environment by having students create games on recycling or having to tap on the animals that don’t belong in an environment to make them disappear.

Feeling like a ‘newbie’ 

Teachers often have a fear of the students knowing more than they do when teaching technology, feeling that as a teacher you should be the fount of all knowledge. Despite the fact I trial apps for weeks (or months) before trying them in the classroom, I have still seen a Grade 1 student do something and said, “how did you do that?”. Rather than feel unworthy, I stopped the class to have the student share what they had showed me, and then we had all learned something new. As digital natives, students know to ‘tap on things’. Some of us are from the generation when if you pressed the wrong button on a computer you could wipe it! iPads and computers these days are more forgiving, and this can be why students discover things; because they try.

I don’t always have the answers: sometimes a students has asked me how to do something and I do not know, so I say “I don’t know, great question, let’s try …” and I Google it or try and work it out with them. And again, then we are both learning.

When students go beyond my ability in what I have taught, I feel that I have taught them well as the facilitator. Good on them! You can have these students work as leaders and mentors in your classroom.

TIPS

  • start simple!
  • gradually build up your skills
  • keep trying!
  • look at other codes online to get ideas and make adjustments

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