From smartphones 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 STEM learning, 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 or home, 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 STEM learning 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 (0 and 1). 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 coding for kids without computers.
Code.org is another beginner coding 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 STEM fields. Code.org provides K-12 STEM learning to schools and annually organizes its global “Hour of Code” campaign, a highly successful effort to engage more young students in computer science and STEM. 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 for kids engaging 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 memberships come with extensive support and resources for educators looking to integrate STEM and coding for kids 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.
This jeopardy-style coding for kids game is the perfect game to play with students when introducing block coding for the first time. With just a few clicks, the interactive slide deck is ready for you to start quizzing your students on coding for kids concepts like vocab, blocks, debugging and so much more! Download the slide here.
Integrating coding throughout the school day is a great first step when prioritizing coding for kids’ curriculum at your school. This big of an initiative should not just fall on one teacher anyway! Unruly Splats has a bunch of cross-curricular coding for kids resources but the Splathematics lesson plan is a perfect tool to pull out during math class. Splathematics contains three different games that can be used as tools when introducing concepts like place value, addition, and word problems. Check out how Technology Integration Specialist, Christine Danhoff, took advantage of these educators designed tools by getting her students engaged in math and coding with Splats!
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 for kids concepts including variables, functions, and conditional statements in a fun, engaging, and collaborative way.
Students of all ages respond well to coding for kid’s activities that make learning more fun! You can turn STEM concepts into fun, physically active games with our Unruly Splats. Gamifying coding for kids comes with the bonus of addressing another serious issue in education— the play deficit, or the lack of physical education in children, especially since the pandemic began. Play is tremendously important for students’ physical and social development. Using Unruly Splats encourages coding for kids while creating and playing their own physically active games!
To support this initiative, Unruly Splats offers community-wide events throughout the school year that Unruly Schools can compete in. For example, our Stomp Madness event encouraged school-wide participation in our fun, physically active games, while also fighting playspace inequity with nonprofit KABOOM!.
Our latest competition is called Go Bananas! This is a back- to-school coding for kids competition where schools are competing to get the most Yellow-lit stomps! Students can use our app to code out their favorite Splats game and then modify them to hit their yellow stomp goal and out-stomp the competition.
Coding competitions are a fun and easy way to increase student engagement, create a classroom community, and to excel in coding for kids initiatives.
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 with. STEM learning 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 click the blue button below!