Mimio Educator

Why Coding? Part 3: DIY Coding in the Elementary Classroom

Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on Tue, Feb 14, 2017


As a classroom teacher, you may have heard about the recent push to incorporate more computer science and coding into students’ lives. The problem could be—as it is with most teachers I know—that you feel vastly underqualified to teach anything in that realm. Coding seems like an intimidating subject and something that requires a lot of professional learning before jumping in.

The truth is, there are multiple resources available that help students learn to code while requiring little training from the teacher. If there are a few devices available to students—both tablets and laptops will work—students can learn the basics of block-based coding. This starts them off with a basic understanding of how coding and logic work. 

Here are some resources worth looking into, downloading, or watching some instructional videos about. They can help get you started on coding in your classroom:

This would be my starting point for any teacher wanting to dive in. Code.org is a non-profit and has promoted the “Hour of Code” initiative that encourages all students to have an opportunity to discover coding. There are K-12 resources on the page and links for teachers, students, and even community members. There is a lot to look through, but it is very helpful for beginners.

Scratch Jr. & Scratch
Scratch is an animated cat that students can code to perform different actions. The Scratch platform is free and provided by MIT—it has been around for a number of years and is really easy to use to get students started. Scratch Jr. is a simplified version that my preschool- and kindergarten-aged children have used before without much help (although I don’t know how much coding they were really learning!). The point is that it is incredibly easy to use and a great way to get students started in a fun and engaging manner.

The Kano computer really doesn’t look much like a computer at all—at least not the ones more adults are used to seeing. It is a platform and equipment that work through a device called a Raspberry Pi. This looks like a small box, but is essentially the “guts” of a computer. It has several ports for plugging in other external devices to use or code to. The advantage to these is the extremely low cost. It would not take much budget for teachers to place these in their classroom as a center for students to start coding on. It would require more direct instruction for some of the options on it (Scratch is one that typically comes preloaded). These types of devices are becoming more and more popular in the industry, so if Kano isn’t a good fit for your classroom, you will easily be able to find other options.

Lego Robotics
Most kids love Legos. The Lego Group has developed kits that incorporate robotics and coding—if you have never looked into it, they also have great kits for other science activities at the elementary level. But, if you have ever purchased Legos, you know very well the downside can be the cost. In our school, we started with a few kits that were shared amongst classrooms, and have expanded each year from there through grant money and funds from our parent organization. For younger students, the smaller “We Do” kits are easier to navigate and less expensive to get started with. The larger EV3 sets are much more robust and great for older students, with various sensors that the students can learn to program. They are expensive, but in my experience, well worth the cost because of the engagement they bring.

These are the resources I have seen most in my school, but I know there are other great resources out there. One of my teachers uses the Hopscotch app, which is great for 4th and 5th grade students. I have also worked before with the Alice storytelling coding that is provided for free through Carnegie Mellon. The history of Alice also has the added benefit of having an amazing story to go with it. And if you have never watched the Last Lecture by founder Dr. Randy Pausch, it is well worth the time.

At the federal and state level, there has been a continued push for computer science education in elementary classrooms. Hopefully some of these resources will help a novice teacher feel like an expert. Some require funds and training, but many are free and easy enough to use that you could get started next week.

Did you miss Part 1 or Part 2 of our coding series? Read them now to learn more about the future of computer science education and get ideas for ways you can incorporate coding into the classroom. Be sure to also check out our other blogs on STEM topics, as well as this article about the “Hour of Code” initiative. Happy coding!

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Topics: Science Lessons, STEM Lessons, curriculum, 21st Century Skills, tips for teachers


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