From smart phones and the Cloud to GPS and video streaming, computers and other digital technologies are definitely an ever-growing part of our modern world. As the job market for computer programming continues to grow, elementary and middle schools across America are working to incorporate coding for kids in their curriculum.
This can put teachers and educators, who may have little or no prior experience with this subject, in a challenging spot. Luckily, there are a lot of high-quality resources available for educators to draw on, many of which are free to use. To help navigate the many tools and lessons available for computer science for beginners, we put together a list of three of our favorites.
CS Unplugged is a project launched by the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Their website maintains a collection of free learning activities designed to teach computer science to young people without using any devices. This widely-used resource is great for any educator looking to familiarize themselves with ways to introduce STEM and coding for kids in their school or class. CS Unplugged’s learning activities utilize fun, engaging games and puzzles that generally require only cards, string, crayons and, as CS Unplugged’s website says, “lots of running around!" Using these basic items you can find around the classroom, students start developing computational thinking and problem solving skills.
For example, one of their lessons, targeted to students aged 5 – 10 years old, teaches students how binary numbers work. Binary numbers are fundamental in coding because computers today use digits to represent information. The “binary number system” which has just two digits is the simplest and most common method used. This particular CS Unplugged lesson on binary numbers uses writing, art, and music to illustrate the concept. This is an easy way to introduce and explore the basics of computer programming without computers.
Code.org is another wonderful source of free, open-source educational content that is focused on teaching computer science and coding for kids. Code.org is a non-profit which operates with the mission of expanding access to computer science in schools, as well as growing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in the computer science field. Code.org provides K-12 coding curricula to schools and annually organizes its global“Hour of Code” campaign, a highly successful effort to engage more young students in computer science. Among the many interactive activities and lesson plans targeting the K-12 audience on Code.org’s website students are challenged to build a maze, manipulate their own digital character or design their own unique “Google” logo, all by learning, applying and using basic coding skills and concepts. The Unruly Splats team did a fun webinar on the Hour of Code with Dr. Splat and Scratch team member, Eric Rosenbaum- check it out here!
One way to make coding engaging for students is to mix it with active games. Students are naturally great at creating their own games on the playground and understanding the rules for games is the first step in computational thinking. After all, the rules for the games are the rules for the code!
Unruly Splats are programmable floor buttons that students program using an iPad or Chromebook to build their own active, recess-style games. Students code the rules that tell Splats when to light up and make sounds when they are stomped on to create games like whack-a-mole, relay races, and Splat tag. Splats combine physical activity with computer science and students can code and play with them in general K-8 classrooms or PE classes.
Unruly Splats school plans come with extensive support and resources for educators looking to integrate computer science and coding in their classrooms and curriculum. The Splats website also has a number of free lesson plans and activities that are designed to introduce K-8 students to concepts like variables and conditional statements that are integral to learning to code.
In the Unruly “Memory Challenge” lesson, students can code virtual Splats using the Unruly web application. In this coding game, students work in groups to code two random Splats out of a group of six (or a random 2 out of 6 virtual Splats if you are using only the app) to light up for 1 second and then turn back off. The students further specify in their program that if the two randomly lit Splats are then correctly remembered and pressed by the “player”, all six Splats will light up green to celebrate. This activity teaches students essential coding concepts including variables, functions and conditional statements in a fun, engaging and collaborative way.
One key to teaching STEM subjects in elementary and middle school is to make it approachable, fun, and playful! One other amazing resource you have is your students! Kids are naturally very creative and you may be surprised by the inventive games they come up. Coding doesn’t have to be really complicated or complex, and that goes for teaching coding too! Start out simple, work in games and have fun with it. If you are interested in learning more about how to mix coding for kids and physical activity, register for our webinar with Makey Makey and PE Teacher, Eric Turrill on March 3rd at 4pm ET. We will send out a recording link to all registrants if you can't make it at that time.