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.
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 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!
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.