Coding is all the rage in elementary schools right now, and it’s not hard to see why! Coding, or the language of programming, is quickly becoming a language that our students need to learn how to “speak,” even as young as Kindergarten. Fluency in coding is necessary in order to design apps, software, websites, video games, and so much more. More importantly, programming is a profession that continues to rapidly grow in demand in our workforce, and by introducing our kiddos to the basics, we are opening new doors for possible passions, interests, and career paths in STEM fields.
Benefits of Coding
Here are just a few of the many benefits of teaching our students to code:
(Graphic from www.kodable.com)
The second week of December is dedicated to the “Hour of Code,” during which students around the world spend a full hour practicing programming in a variety of ways. I like to offer my students a variety of websites, apps, and coding toys during the Hour of Code.
By far, my favorite app for teaching Pre K, Kindergarten, and First Grade students the basics of block coding is Kodable. The app itself is free, with more levels unlocked if a teacher has created a class account on their website. To play Kodable, students drag and drop a series of commands to get a lovable little “fuzz ball” through a maze, attempting to collect coins along the way. It is highly kid-friendly, developmentally appropriate, and engaging, with courses that slowly increase in difficulty from Sequence and Algorithms, to Conditional Expressions, to Loops and Patterns and beyond. Kodable continues to add more features and options as it grows in popularity, including teacher accounts where we can enroll full classes and track their progress. Full paid curriculum packages are also now available for teachers interested in more extensive, yearlong lessons.
Code.org is also a highly popular, free coding website that is most appropriate for advanced first graders and up. Kids absolutely love this site because it features popular programs and characters such as Minecraft, Star Wars, Moana, and Frozen. Plus, there are introductory video tutorials to explain each new stage. Just like Kodable, teachers can create class accounts and track students’ progress. This site is wonderful for dedicated coders because the levels increase to highly advanced strategies in the middle school range. Students can also “skip around” levels to try out different programming strategies and difficulty levels.
My Mini Sphero robotic balls are a brand new addition to my classroom this year and I absolutely LOVE how I can differentiate them for my different grade levels. At only $45 apiece, they’re a super affordable option to get robotics into your kids hands. It connects to a Sphero Mini games app for free range driving, ball controlled games, and even a “Face Drive” setting that controls the ball based on your facial expressions that the front-facing camera read!. There is also a Sphero Edu app loaded with ready-made lessons that vary in difficulty. My youngest ones can draw shapes and paths for the Sphero to follow and older ones can code paths through block coding. They can control the speed and angle of the ball, LED lights, sounds, and even make the ball spin. The kids absolutely LOVE them!
Bee Bots and Pro Bots are another wonderful way to introduce sequence coding to little ones. Bee Bots are most appropriate for K-1st and Pro Bots are recommended for Second Grade and up. Students press the directional buttons to program the Bee Bots to move forward, backward, and turn in different directions. I have clear vinyl grids that work as perfect “maps” for the Bee Bots because you can design various games by placing pictures, shapes, and words underneath the squares, then program the Bee Bot to travel from shape to shape. My students also love to tape a fine point pen vertically in the back hole of Bee Bots and Pro Bots and program them to draw shapes and designs on paper! As a bonus, there’s a free Bee Bot app for students to practice the same programming on iPads or other devices, although it’s more difficult than Kodable for very young students.
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Some of my other favorite coding toys for Second Grade and up are Cubelets, Ozobots, and brand new Osmo Coding. You can read more about my favorite STEM Toys over on my Top 10 STEM Gifts for Kids blog post.
So what about classrooms that do not have computers and devices readily available for students to practice coding, or do not have enough to share among large groups of students? No worries! Students can also practice the basics of coding through “unplugged” activities and games.
One of my new favorite additions gets my students up and moving with Hopscotch Coding! Students map out interactive codes on the floor and act them out to practice sequencing, conditions, and loops!
For other unplugged coding games, students can map out the code on paper, then have a partner figure out the code and write the code to match! My brand new Unplugged Coding Bundle for K-3 is perfect for practicing simple block coding on paper.
You can also try a free sample for Gingerbread Coding by clicking below:
I hope you are excited and ready to try coding with your little ones!