Coding In First Grade
by Cathy O’Rourke
December 3rd through December 7th is Computer Science Week. Our youngest students have learned that programmers write code to make computers, iPads, tablets, and applications solve problems for us. We can all write and follow code.
With young children, we often teach big ideas by sharing a good book. How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk is a great starting place. The main character is a young girl named Pearl who works through the process of programming her robot to help her make a sandcastle.
Then we discuss the commands that Pearl used in the book. Follow this with a game called Hopscotch Coding (developed by Brooke Brown of Teaching Outside of the Box), and children experience being the robot as they take turns following the code’s sequence of commands of forward, left, right, touch your toes, and even loops. All the while, classmates cheer on and even act out the code as each child makes his way through the code.
Children learn to solve specific problems by using a Blue Bot. With this device, we set up a work mat on which the robot will travel. Then, we set up a specific problem for the students to solve with code. Here, the children must write code to send Blue Bot to a representation of 6 (resources shown from Sara Malchow and Della Larson’s Class on TpT). Each student takes a turn coding the path for the Blue Bot to take. The teacher records this code. Then the student programs the robot as classmates read the code off chorally. Then the student presses go, and we test the code. Sometimes it takes several tries to get Blue Bot to the solution. Sometimes it takes a team of students to write and rewrite the code to get the sequence to work correctly. We discuss how this process is exactly how programmers work–as a team, to figure out tricky problems. We also talk about perseverance and how we feel when we have successfully solved a problem.
After these experiences, children are ready to try coding on their own. Here children are using Box Island to practice coding independently or with partners. They must write simple code sequences to move the character along pathways. As students progress through the levels, the problems to solve become more complex and require group problem solving talks to generate ideas. We do this by projecting the student’s iPad on the SMARTboard, and then we discuss ideas together. We try the solutions proposed as a group and see which idea(s) work to solve the problem at hand. Then we cheer for each other. Children go back to their own puzzles, working at their own pace, but with more knowledge of how sequencing code works.
Coding with young children can happen in primary classrooms. For the above experiences, we use our 30 minutes of Theme time each day during Computer Science Week along with the Hopscotch Code in the morning to sign in as children arrive. As the week progresses, children are very excited about coding. Spontaneous dancing has broken out as Theme time approaches in the course of the day. Joy, teamwork, and using logical thinking as they code are great outcomes for this special week of school.
Mrs. Cathy O’Rourke (or Mrs. O’) teaches first grade at Rutland Northwest Primary School in Rutland, Vermont.