Kids are Cuckoo about Coding!

The title of this blog post comes from one of the students in my coding club as he exclaimed to our deputy principal “I am cuckoo about coding!”. Read on and you’ll see why…

Early this term I was asked to take on the task of running a lunch time coding club in our school for students from grades 1 – 3. While the idea of starting this new project excited me, I must admit I knew very little about coding, other than that it involves programming a computer to follow through a set of instructions.

I set about doing research into coding and how we could utilise our 1:1 iPads in the club. I came across the ScratchJr app and some great videos by Paul Hamilton which provided me the inspiration I needed to get the ball rolling.

We began our first coding club session with an introduction to some of the key ScratchJr blocks by predicting their functions, physically acting out code and testing it within the app to either confirm or reassess our predictions. Students then explored the app’s functionality further, before being given a series of challenges based on some of the teaching resources provided on the ScratchJr website. They worked in teams to program a car to drive across multiple iPads, make a sun set and turn from day to night, make characters run in a race, and make a ball bounce realistically, responding appropriately when it hit another object.

Given that problem solving plays such a large part in coding, I found that my teaching consisted mostly of questioning, rather than showing students the code involved in the challenges, to encourage them to work through the problems they were encountering. For example, when students were programming a car to drive across multiple iPads, they discovered on their own that they would need to set a timer on some iPads so each car would wait until the car on the previous screen had driven across the iPad before starting. However, they didn’t independently see the flaws in their code when the car was still visible on previous screens while it continued to drive across subsequent iPads. Instead of showing the students the code involved I asked, “I wonder if there is a way to make it look like there is really only one car?”. I could see students faces light up as they had that light bulb moment and exclaimed, “We could use invisibility and visibility!”. We have had countless light bulb moments since, as students continue to problem solve through questioning their programming.

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Seeing the benefits of coding in the club I started using coding in the classroom with my year 2 students, and developed a set of my own coding challenges, phrased as questions, to encourage problem solving, critical and creative thinking. For example, ‘Can you make a diver dive down to the bottom of the ocean and collect an object?’ or ‘Can you make a character play soccer?’. Students completed these challenges as part of our maths rotational activities.

Once we had developed a thorough understanding of the app’s functionality, my students were asked to design a simple game to demonstrate their understanding of a maths concept we had learnt this term. Many students decided to make a game related to their maths goal, to show mastery of this skill. The intent was that this game would also be used to teach the maths concept to year 1 students.

I provided an example of a simple game and a storyboard for students to map out their ideas. I didn’t share with students, the code required to create the game. Even as I was introducing the task, I wasn’t sure how my students would go, as the concept of designing and coding a game was not only new to them, but not exactly an easy idea for 6 and 7 year olds to comprehend. I set them to work and within a few minutes I looked around the room and saw students independently photographing mathematical materials and printing out resources to incorporate in their game. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is working!’. Each of my students was able to code their own maths game and in fact, only a very small number required support the complete the task. There was a buzz of excitement around the room, and if you know me, you know I like a quiet classroom, but in this moment I was reminded by the words of Jennie Magiera, “Compliance does not equal engagement”. Engagement is exactly what I saw. Students were excited to tell each other about the code they were creating but that meant that they were involved in meaningful collaboration, as they shared with each other, the working’s of their game. This was truly a “sparkling moment” for me as a teacher.

Adding coding to the curriculum has not only encouraged some fantastic conversations, but it has helped my students work responsibly and respectfully with one another. They have been sharing and getting on better with one another because they are highly engaged, motivated and challenged.

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