Technology is playing a much bigger role in education and the world today, especially since the spring of 2020, and that role will continue to grow as our technical world advances. As educators of young children, it is our job to redesign our instruction and school experiences to prepare students for this technological future and the jobs of tomorrow.
Now is a great time to take advantage of students’ interest in and increased use of technology to teach them about computer programming and coding. When it comes to coding, the earlier we introduce computer language and programming the better. Research shows that young students’ brains are more receptive to computer languages at a young age, just like foreign languages; plus, the earlier we introduce students to computer coding and programming the more comfortable and successful they will be with it in the future.
Digital Learning Day will be celebrated on February 25, 2021. It is a day to highlight and celebrate all the different ways teachers are using technology and teaching technology in the classroom. Since many of the activities planned for this day include coding and it falls around the time we begin discussing St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to combine the two into fun learning experiences for students.
Using coding activities not only helps prepare young students for the future they also improve:
- sequencing skills
- logical thinking
- cause and effect skills
- computational thinking
An Overview of Coding for Young Students
Before beginning any coding activities with young students it is beneficial to explain or review what coding is.
I like to first explain that computers can not function on their own. They can not do anything without a person telling them what to do.
The person who tells a computer what to do is a programmer. A programmer uses code to tell the computer what to do.
The code tells the computer exactly what to do and has to be written in the correct order or it will not work properly. A computer always follows a code exactly in the order it is written. The order that a computer follows the code is called a sequence. If the sequence is not correct, the program will not function properly.
For example, when putting on your shoes and socks you would not put your shoes on and then put on your socks. It is important to do it in the correct sequence in order to get the desired outcome, put on your socks first and then your shoes.
After students understand that code is what computer programmers use to tell computers exactly what to do and the sequence of code is important, it is fun to begin with an engaging hands-on activity where students get to act as programmers to design basic code and then test it.
In this St. Patrick’s Day coding activity, students first design a map or grid of Leprechaun land and then act as programmers to design basic code in the correct sequence that will command a leprechaun to follow the path and move to a select location (end point).
To design their grid, students pick and choose design pieces to place in any of the squares. Since there are a number of different design pieces from which to choose, play is different each time which keeps students’ interest and engagement.
Then, students choose an end point for their program. It can be any square on the grid. They can choose to end at an object like a pot of gold or any blank square except the starting point which is the square with the gold star.
Next, students use directional arrows to create the code in the correct sequence that will move the leprechaun from the square with the gold star to the chosen end point.
Completing this hands-on activity helps students visualize coding and also helps them understand the importance of using the correct sequence when coding in order to get the desired result.
You can easily create movable characters for this hands-on activity by either folding a paper clip upright and taping the character to it so it stands upright or placing the character in a small binder clip so it stands upright.
Computer Coding Worksheets for St. Patrick’s Day
Before students move on to digital coding practice, I like to have them practice on paper and also assess their understanding. These practice pages are similar to the hands-on grid activity so students have some familiarity with how the coding works.
First, students practice following code by drawing the path through Leprechaun Land according to the code starting in the box with the star.
We complete these several ways: using pencils, crayons, dry erase markers, or Dot Painters.
Students then move on to practice creating code by programming the code for the highlighted path through Leprechaun Land to the pot of gold by drawing directional arrows in each coding box across the top.
Digital Coding Practice with Boom Cards
Once students feel more comfortable with coding, they move on to digital practice, first with Boom Cards and then with apps.
I like using the Boom Cards first because they are self-checking and have audio directions so young students can complete them independently. Also, I receive data on each student so I can assess their understanding.
In the first set of coding Boom Cards, students move a leprechaun to the correct place in Leprechaun Land by following the code.
This helps students learn the importance of following each step of code in the correct sequence in order to get the desired response and why sequence matters in a computer program.
In the second set of coding Boom Cards, students create the code for the highlighted blue path through Leprechaun Land by dragging and dropping the arrows to the boxes. They then move the leprechaun from the box with the gold star along the path to the pot of gold according to the code they created.
This helps students learn the importance of creating each step of code in the correct sequence in order to get the the desired response, why sequence matters in a computer program, and the importance of checking / testing your code.
Once students are comfortable with following and creating code, you can use coding apps.
Here are some of my favorite coding apps for young students: