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Apr 10 2019


Greg Choi

For those not versed in the lexicon of coding, this can be quite difficult to understand. Even for adults, programming and all that coding involves can certainly be a head-scratcher. Now imagine trying to teach this very subject to children! Although it may seem like an insurmountable task, Kindergarten Homeroom Teacher Ms. Sarah Metzger recently did just that (and to great success if we may add!). She shared that "Some specialists in the field suggest that coding should be taught earlier than reading since it can actually benefit a student's ability to understand and develop reading skills." Please read further to learn about how Ms. Metzger created and executed these interesting coding lessons.

The Origin: Student Interest

A group of boys in my class had been creating spinning top games using symbols to show what each spinning top needed to do. Their design was so realistic that it looked like video game graphics. I wanted a way to hook the boys into the "How We Express Ourselves" unit and so thought introducing coding would connect well with their interests. Alongside the boys' interest, a group of girls had also been creating 3D models of obstacle course games for little characters to move around. I could see the link between both interests and the coding work I wanted to do, and so I started to plan this lesson out.

The way the process of coding was introduced in the classroom was through the use of a blank grid carpet, where the students moved according to the commands their friends wrote on a white paper board. To make the lesson more interesting, barriers were added that the students had to move around. This also led to them working in teams to write the proper code before moving on. Next, a desk top version was created in which the children then moved a character around, using arrows on the grid to give commands. They started to work either in pairs or individually on this task as time progressed. Lastly, the iPad app titled, "Scratch Jr" was utilized. Students worked on their own code, but supported one another in how to use the program effectively. More confident students helped newer students to the task, teaching them how to use the program.

In the Early Years, it is important to begin coding with the physical environment so that children can visualize what they are doing when they input data into a computer. Therefore, when they worked in the physical environment of our classroom, the students worked collaboratively to solve the problems and challenges they faced, working out the best path to take. Afterwards, the lesson moved to a simple coding program on the iPad that allowed them to use symbols to write commands. After several weeks of work, I am proud to say the students were able to create code that moved several characters across the screen. They were also able to make these characters interact with one another, as well as add vocals to each of them. One student even managed to have a character kick a ball into a net in a soccer game from the commands he worked out.

The Skills Developed

Coding is a precursor to reading, which teaches children how to follow text from left to right. Students that code develop the understanding of the need to include all relevant details when giving commands, building upon their language skills foundation. The students' math skills can also improve due to the studying of positioning, direction, spatial awareness, and problem solving. This is also in relation to their "Signs and Symbols" unit focused on, which helps students realize that the use of symbols can create code and communicate meaning. Indeed, through this, they being to understand that computers have a language of their own, which we can also communicate with. Transdisciplinary skills were also gained as the children took on different roles and communicated effectively with one another to work on their code. Lastly, it was exciting to observe how the UN Sustainable Development Goal of "empowering women through technology" through these lessons. By taking gender stereotypes out of the coding activities, the girls where highly engaged in the process as well.