Hour of Code: Teaching Elementary Students to Code

Code.Org hosted an Hour of Code campaign earlier this month in conjunction with National Computer Science Week. I am super excited to have finally (finally!) gotten a chance to have some of my classes complete their hour of code on Monday and Tuesday.

My second graders had been working hard on their holiday research projects and I wanted to have something fun for them to do before the break.  After unsuccessfully finding any coding websites for kids, I decided to use Daisy the Dinosaur, an app created by Hopscotch. I was initially just going to have my second graders use the app but ultimately I decided to try it with one of my first grade classes and see how it went. It went AWESOME. 

I introduced the concept of coding in kid friendly terms: I explained coders were the people who made the websites, apps, and programs they used on computers, iPads and phones. They told the computers what to do. I compared being a user, using what was already created on websites such as PebbleGo, to being a creator: with the app, THEY were the ones in change, telling the iPad what to do,

Then I walked the students through the first 4 challenges. The first challenge I explained and modeled: the different parts (the instructions, the commands, the program box, the play button) and how to complete the challenge. For the second challenge I had the students tell me what new commands they saw and how they thought we could achieve the challenge. After the students worked on the next two challenges as a class and I felt enough of the commands had been introduced for them to get a strong picture of how the app worked, I partnered the students up and they worked through all of the challenges before they went to the free play mode.

The students LOVED the app - they found it fascinating that they could control this dinosaur and loved discovering how by putting the commands in different orders and different amounts the dinosaur would take new and different actions. The students loved sharing with their partners what they figured out and collaborating to complete the challenges. The students were so excited to share with me and with the other partnerships what they figured out and discovered. 

An article I found on British news site helped to clarify for me the importance of teaching coding. Quotes that I found striking in teaching young students were:
1.       “Coding, in the simplest of terms, is telling a computer what you want it to do, which involves typing in step-by-step commands for the computer to follow. Computers are not clever things, however they are very obedient. They will do exactly what you want them to do, so long as you tell them how to do it correctly. Learning to code has been likened to learning a foreign language, or perhaps more specifically a family of foreign languages.” "Every website, smartphone app, computer programme, calculator and even microwave relies on code in order to operate. This makes coders the architects and builders of the digital age.”

I would strongly recommend using Daisy the Dinosaur app for young elementary students. One item I would add would be additional challenges that I would write as well as having the students writing their own challenges to exchange with other partnerships. Towards the end of the lesson, some of the students in one of the classes got a little antsy and I think writing their own challenges would have reengaged them. I also think as I continue to teach coding to students throughout the year, I'll introduce more complicated coding apps for students who are up for more of a challenge.

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