For Team Awesome, learning to code *is* play. They love it. They like the challenge of creating and then executing a plan. They like the sense of accomplishment they feel when they’ve guided a little computer creature through a maze or around an obstacle. They love solving these coding puzzles with their friends and then cheering for one another as they master increasingly difficult challenges.
Coding really is a new type of literacy. As computers continue to become a more integral part of our daily lives, it’s going to become just as important to teach our children to code as it is to teach them to read. As young children code they learn how to create and express themselves with the computer, not just to interact with it. In the process, children learn to solve problems and design projects, and they develop sequencing skills that are foundational for later academic success. They also use math and language in a meaningful and motivating context, supporting the development of early-childhood numeracy and literacy. Some people don’t realize that coding is also a creative endeavor. We think of writing code as Computer Science. Science is logical and has a method. Coding is also logical, and it also has a method, but when we code, we can use the logic and method to create. We can create games, videos, websites, art and really almost anything imaginable. What’s more, we can teach this new kind of creative literacy to our youngest children. In the same way that there are developmentally appropriate ways to expose young children to reading and writing, there are developmentally appropriate ways to introduce young children to coding. Below are a few of the coding apps that Team Awesome has explored and are enjoying. Teaching programming is about teaching thinking, and I think that’s appropriate at any age.
Kodable: This app is ideal for teaching young students to code. The best part about it is that it requires absolutely no reading skills. Kids propel the little fuzz balls through the maze using various commands that the app introduces over the course of the game. Some of the children are working their way through each of the levels available on the the free version. There’s a paid version with more levels called Kodable Pro for $6.99.
Light Bot: The programming skills that Light Bot teaches are very manageable for the most eager students. The only downside to this app is the fact that it does require students to read, or have an adult on hand to periodically read basic instructions to them. The Hour of Code version of Light Bot is free and has 18 levels. If you max out those levels you can buy a paid version of Light Bot with 40 levels for $2.99.
Scratch Jr. You can read an older (2013) New York Times article about how young children are using Scratch Jr. in the classroom here. Basically, kids organize blocks that contain commands. Those blocks, when combined appropriately, create the code for whatever it is that the child wants to create. Scratch Jr. is a little sophisticated for the Ks and we just began playing with it this spring.
Blue-Bot is not only a programmable floor robot that allows the children to code, debug and plan algorithms directly on the robot, but it is also an app. The physical rechargeable Blue-Bot has a clear shell so children can see the components inside and identify how it works. It is capable of performing 45 degree turns and kids can also include repetitions of an algorithm. The app mimics the actions/ abilities of the actual robot. A Blue-Bot is not needed to use the app and while we have only played with the Blue-Bot in the library, Team Awesome often chooses to use the app on the iPads.
This week we began Listen to Reading using the Chromebooks, which was an exercise in frustration for some of Team Awesome as they are used to tapping a screen and the eye/ hand coordination required to use a touch pad and cursor was new. Listen to Reading provides pronunciation and expression models that can only come from hearing fluent and expressive examples. In other words, it is a model of what good reading sounds like. Hearing a book read helps children see how the words on the page can come alive in a fluid, expressive way. It helps them focus on the sounds of words read without interruption and gives them practice listening — a skill that they must master in order to learn to read. Audio books emphasize reading as a source of pleasure rather than a skill, and make children eager to learn how to read. Beyond their sheer enjoyment of audio books, children also develop a sense of narrative structure and understanding of language. And the children can choose to listen to the books they are interested in, giving them a sense of independence and autonomy. It also adds to those research- recommended 90 minutes per day that children should be interacting with books. So win-win all around!
On April 6, schools across SD 73 held assemblies and activities to honour and recognize Secwepemc and Nlaka'Pamux territory as well as other First Nations and Aboriginal groups. In Kamloops Thompson School District this is now known as the "Day of Sucwentwecw." Sucwentwecw (sook-went-wa) means to acknowledge one another. During this day a number of events, activities and assemblies were held to recognize the Secwepemc and Nlaka'Pamux Nation and to teach students and staff about the traditional aboriginal and First Nations people, their histories and the territories SD 73 now occupies. The theme for this year's Day of Sucwentwecw was 'Honouring The Role of Indigenous Knowledge.'
At BEST our assembly opened with the hand-drum group singing the Welcome Song. We were honoured to have Lyle Thomas as a guest speaker. He told us a story about Crow bringing fire. Ms. Boyle and Mr. Law gave both the opening and closing remarks and explained the First Nations Principles of Learning. Roxanne Letterlough gave a First Nations blessing and led the Kindergarten students in a dance. Mr. Woods' played the guitar while some of his students led us in singing O Canada. The Day of Sucwentwecw is a day to celebrate and acknowledge one another and I would like to think that we at BEST do just that every day and not solely on April 6.
I have taught many grades, including high school, but LOVE teaching primary.