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How to Teach STEM Learning and Coding for Kids

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Coding for Kids with Play

Michael Fricano II is a K-6 Technology Integration Specialist and Computer Science Teacher, so it’s no surprise that he is passionate about integrating new technology into his class. In his curriculum, Michael teaches coding for kids and computational thinking to his energetic K-3 students. Since most learning takes place sitting still at a desk, he is always looking for ways to get his students more physically active with coding for kids. 

“I don’t like to see my [students] sitting still in a chair and tapping on screens,'' Michael said. So when he saw Splats on Twitter, he was immediately interested in this unique STEM learning tool. “Seeing the connection between programming and physical activity just made sense to me. I knew I had to try Splats with my kids!”

Michael teaches his students coding for kids basics with Code.org and Scratch, so integrating physical activity is a progression that fits easily with his existing STEM learning. “Once they get the basics of coding, being able to apply it directly to something and to get them out of their seats and physically active was a natural next step.”

students engage in active STEM by stomping on Splats
Students stomp on Splats in class to test if the games they coded are working

download a sample lesson on this page

Student-Led Learning with Splats 

To start, Michael leads his class through the Splats tutorials in the app. Once they are comfortable with the basic functions of coding for kids, they start brainstorming games as a group and working on them independently. 

“The kids brainstorm a list of exercises together that they think will work well with the Splats program. Once we develop a few things as a group, the students go through self exploration and testing on their own.”

Students in his class pick up coding very quickly in this format. Michael recalled a moment where a first grade student asked him how to code a delay in her timer. This is something that they had not covered in the tutorials yet so Michael did not know. He told her he would try to figure it out after class but suggested she try to figure it out first. 

“Typically a student will just move on if they can’t figure it out, but five minutes later, I hear ‘Mr. Fricano, I think I figured it out!’. She showed the rest of the class how she did it and then a lot of the other students incorporated it into their games. She was so proud that she did it herself”.  

Mr. Fricano's class collaborate together in small groups to code their Splats
Students in Mr. Fricano's class collaborate together in small groups to code their Splats

As Michael’s story illustrates, teachers do not need to have all the answers. When teaching STEM learning, acting as a coach rather than giving students all the answers helps students develop problem-solving skills. In many cases, students end up learning and retaining more! 

Michael takes a student-led approach in general when teaching coding for kids. “Because of how open the platform is, it really provides the freedom for kids to make something of their own and to explore and test it instantly and fix the bugs and to improve upon things. In the beginning, the kids had a lot of questions and I would help and guide them in the right direction without giving them the answers” 

Involving Parents in STEM Learning

As a final STEM learning project, students in Mr. Fricano’s class invent their own game with Splats and he brings in parents for a showcase. During the showcase, students teach their parents how to code with Splats and parents get to play the game their child programmed. Some examples of games created in past years are a basketball toss, a sit-up challenge, a karate chop challenge, and relay races. 

kids learn to code and teach their parents
One student used Splats to create a karate chop game and taught his parents how to play it

“The parents really enjoy it and the kids have so much fun coding the active games. This past year, I saw a couple parents playing the relay races together, trying it over and over to see if they could beat their high scores. The sit-ups challenge was interesting because they had to figure out how to hit a Splat if you’re not on your feet. They ended up tapping the Splat on the ground with their head to get a point each time they did sit-ups.”

Michael told us that parents were very impressed with their kids. “It’s great to see the ownership and the pride that students have in their work. Especially since they have the opportunity to show it to their parents and get their parents moving around. Kids have a lot of fun watching their parents play, knowing that it’s something they created.

Mr. Fricano continues to use this progression with his Kindergarten and Grade 1 students and is working on new, more challenging ways to incorporate coding for kids and Splats with his Grade 1-2 students, now that they’ve learned the basics of STEM learning. You can see what he’s up to next on his website or  follow him on Twitter

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Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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