Coding for Kindergarteners? Absolutely!

By Maridee Stanley

America is short on computer programmers. Currently, tech companies are recruiting programmers from India, not by choice but by necessity. Don’t we want our own SUSD students to get these high paying tech jobs so we can finally break generational poverty? This can happen if we start our students coding early. How early? High school? Middle school? Intermediate grades? Kindergarten is not too soon. For the past 5 years, my kinders at Kennedy Elementary have successfully learned the basics of block programming and began to think of themselves as the programmers and tech entrepreneurs of the future. Students have fun and the parents love it! “But,” you ask, “ I’m not a programmer. How can I teach coding?” Don’t worry. Coding isn’t as hard as you think. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me on this.code1

All the instructional work is done for us by Code.org, Tynker, PLTW, or Google, and the beginning lessons are designed for pre-readers. Why wouldn’t any teacher want to do this? You have several options to get your students started on coding. The best known is Code.org, developer of Hour of Code. If your school has Project Lead the Way you have the PLTW computer science module. Tynker has some free content here  or you can sign up for free teacher account for an easy K lesson here. Google will send teachers a free kit to be used with their online material, click here. Even if you supplement with other programs, Code.org is indispensable as it has the most resources and an easy-to-navigate website. From there you can watch videos (Course A for age 4-7 ), visit the educator section and create your account, peruse lesson plans, or print out offline material .

If you and your colleagues want an enjoyable Saturday, attend a Code.org Computer Science Fundamentals PD, learn some tricks and pick up some swag. Or, take the online PD .

Students working with robots.

Students work with blue-bots, robots that the kids can program!

If you don’t have time for all this, simply take your class straight to an Hour of Code classic, Angry Birds, and start coding! I recommend starting offline. I use Code.org’s “Move It” for PE and PLTW as a center activity. Ozobots are a popular way to teach the concept of programming. But my students’ favorite offline activity is the Bee-Bot, a small robot that is programmed with directional arrows on its back. Kinders doing Code.org offline coding for P.E. Tip: Don’t try this on a windy day. Using the directional cards that come with BeeBots and Blue-Bots, kindergarteners write a line of code. Using direction keys, students program BeeBots and Blue-Bots to spell CVC words or order numbers. Bee-Bot and BlueBot programming was a big hit at STEAM Night and Literacy Night at Kennedy. Even some parents got hooked!

Image of student and laptop.

“Look, Ma, I’m programming!”

After the offline warm-ups, students should do Code.org’s Course A followed by Angry Birds and Minecraft on Hour of Code. Some may progress on to Star Wars or Moana, although you may have to tell students the objective …get scrap metal in Star Was and fish in Moana. I don’t recommend Frozen for kinders as this requires knowledge of angles. Many kinders begin to have difficulty when they get to loops, but with patience, persistence and careful counting they can overcome difficulties. Remind students that “fail” means first attempt in learning something awesome.

Coding a Minecraft game is a good incentive to finish ST Math and is an alternative for students who have completed work early. If you have never coded, try some super simple kindergarten block coding on the following Google Doodle celebrating 50 years of children’s coding. https://www.google.com/doodles/celebrating-50-years-of-kids-coding And please, get your students coding. You might inspire the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Google Classroom for Kinders

Google Classroom in the Kindergarten class? Yes!  This platform gives students the opportunity to create, collaborate, learn and explore. Students discovered that they were capable of creating digitally. I would love to get more K-2 teachers on board with using Google Classroom!   It is not as hard as you think!

Picture of students working with Chromebooks.

Kinder students can work with Chromebooks!

To begin with, procedures must be established.  My students first became familiar with their Chromebooks using Imagine Learning. This program uses their Google account to login. You can use other programs as well. Each child should have their account information on a card which is taped to their desk.  They only need to input the one to one correspondence for each digit in their passcode. The problem with Kinder is that some of them are not developmentally ready to achieve the one to one correspondence successfully. They either lack the fine motor skills or the hand to eye coordination. This problem can be solved by the students who were more advanced.   They can simply go around and help other students logon. The first time we used Google Classroom I modeled it on the overhead projector. I went through the steps a couple of times then had a student come up and model the procedure also. The first few lessons should be done whole-group in order to help each child become successful. They learn how to navigate the site and what the expectations are for each lesson.

It might not be all smooth sailing at first.  We had a few problems. Five of my students could not log in at all.  They kept receiving a message that said their account had been blocked by the administration.  After looking into their accounts I discovered that they did not return their GAFE forms. My Kindergarten colleague has had the same problem in her classroom so it might be quite common. We thought we had 100% returned. After looking into the GAFE forms 3 of the students in question did return their GAFE forms. We are not sure what happened.

My school is an I.B. school.  This means we use an inquiry-based curriculum. Students are required to ask questions and research answers. Usually, the Kinders have their parents complete the research and share it with them. Google Classroom is more powerful.  They have some ownership of their research and they absolutely love it!

Student using Google Classroom.

Kinder students are able to navigate to Google Classroom on their own.

For example,  we were studying Endangered Animals. For the first lessons, I linked some introductory videos to the Google accounts and let the kids loose.  It was easy for them to log onto their accounts as they had previous experience. I was not prepared for the results. Two of the video links I had assigned worked perfectly well on my computer but were blocked on the student Chromebooks. I learned that this is a problem that happens because students and teachers are on separate networks and go through different filters. I need to test the videos using a student Chromebook and student account. How could I have known?

I encourage all Kindergarten teachers to embrace Google Classroom, challenge your students, and provide a more meaningful online experience.