Design a Coding Unit for the Classroom

STEM learning objectives are being included in many school, district, and national curriculum standards. As a result, educators are challenged with creating engaging and challenging instructional materials to teach computer science skills. But most teachers don’t have a technology background, much less knowledge of programming. Here’s some help. Whether you’re using ScratchJr, Scratch, HTML and CSS, or Python and the Turtle Library, the activities will be similar. Following are some basic strategies to consider when you start to design a coding unit for the classroom.

Practice Sequencing Algorithms Offline

Design a coding unit to include offline exercises. This will develop computational thinking. A starting point for instruction is to build algorithms. An algortithm is a description of the program. It uses words and symbols to sequence the instructions.

The logical order of coded instructions is critical. To build this skill, instruct students to physically act out and order a list of directions in simple, everyday language first. For example, if a programmer had to write a program for the task of putting a piece of paper into the trash, it may have the steps:

design a coding unit

Have students act out the steps they listed to check them. Or, have a list of mixed up steps that students must unscramble to place them in the correct order.

Start Simple

When you design a coding unit, move from simple to more complex code slowly.

Don’t offer a complete set of instructions in code and have the students copy it and run it to see the result. This may intimidate young programmers and even make them think that coding is too difficult. Moreover, they won’t learn what each part of the code does.

Instead, write a few lines. Then test the result. The instant response will create a connection between the coding and its function.

coding for kids

In TechnoWhiz, primary students are introduced to ScratchJr by using one block at a time to move the character on the stage. They observe the resulting motion. Then they combine a series of blocks to create a script and see the effect. Next, they add more characters and move them, and learn to loop their actions. By the end of the project, they are able to make an interactive, one-of-a-kind racing game with a background, formatted text, and characters moving at different speeds, dancing, and talking!

Use Trial and Error

Invite students to experiment with values to figure out what works. Try a number or value. Does it need to be higher or lower? Test often to see what works.

Encourage exploration. For example, when using Python and the Turtle Library, circle(50) draws a circle with a specific size. Students can explore by changing the number to a higher value and a lower one. Or code left(90) to turn the turtle symbol. Then change the value to see what angles the turtle turns. The repeated experimentation will result in learning that can be applied in subsequent activities.

Teach Debugging

Don’t wait until mistakes are made. Early in the project, create errors with intention. Have students ‘break‘ the script, then fix it. As a result, they will recognize mistakes that may be made later in their own programming and be more likely to correct them independently.

design a coding unit

Apply Skills

Introduce a skill, repeat or review it, and then transfer it to another application using the program. Avoid teaching a concept in isolation. When students re-use skills in different contexts, they will accumulate their knowledge and be able to apply it in their own creative projects.

teaching coding to kids

For example, in TechnoTurtle students learn to use Python to control the movement of a turtle symbol. Then they apply their skills to write scripts to draw pictures and to move the turtle through a maze. In other parts of the project, they learn about variables. Then they use this concept to create Mad Libs and to produce an interactive carnival game.

Show Samples

Demonstrate how a completed project might look at the beginning of a lesson. This will serve multiple purposes: students will have a clear idea of what they’re making, they will be inspired to create their own unique version, and the sample can be a coding reference guide to use if trouble shooting is needed.

In TechnoHTML, a sample web page about skateboarding sparks student interest and demonstrates the skills they will learn using HTML and CSS:

design a coding unit

  • Formatting text
  • Adding images
  • Making lists
  • Linking to sites

Provide an Opportunity to Share

At the completion of the project, ensure that students have an authentic audience. This helps students to connect their work in the classroom to the real world and see a purpose for their efforts. Their peers are a perfect audience. Celebrate the finished projects and encourage interaction and feedback. The digital nature of programming projects makes it easier than ever to share work with classmates, family, and friends.

design a coding unit

For example, in TechnoCode, middle school students place their collection of completed animated scenes, stories, mazes, and games into an Activity Studio to share with others.

Then they invite feedback and recommendations for improvements.

Reflect on Learning

Finally, give students an opportunity to reflect on their experiences in learning to code. In either written form in a journal or as a class discussion, ask:

  1. What did you like about learning to program?
  2. Is there anything in your project that you would like to change?
  3. What do you wish you knew how to do?
  4. Have you learned anything about yourself?
  5. What advice would you give to a beginner programmer?

design a coding unit

In TechnoTales, students in grades 2 to 5 use five simple reflection responses to gain some insight into their learning.

The young programmers used Scratch to design a story with four scenes, multiple animated characters, a plot with a dilemma to solve, and a happy ending!

Design a Coding Unit

TechnoKids has elementary and middle school programming projects for Scratch Jr, Scratch, Python and the Turtle Library, and HTML. Before starting to design a coding unit of your own, try one! Visit the TechnoKids online store.

design a coding unit

TechnoKids has programming projects to teach ScratchJr, Scratch, Python, and HTML and CSS

Tips for Teaching Coding to Kids

Teaching coding to kids is more than just giving them lines of code to copy and then run. We want to empower students to become critical thinkers and innovative programmers. To build programming skills, beginners need to be provided with a variety of analytical and engaging experiences. To do that, we should spark their enthusiasm with a collection of activities that ensure success and an understanding of essential coding concepts. As they learn how to code original creations, students will become keen, competent programmers. They will have the foundational STEM skills for the workplace of the future.

tips for teaching coding

Here are some suggested types of activities to consider when teaching coding to kids.

Explore and Investigate

Teach code a line at a time. Then ask students to analyze and experiment with the code. Explore with different values and see the outcome. What happens with a higher or lower number? When the line of code is moved to a different place, what happens? What happens when a character is omitted? This strategy builds student insight into the meaning of the code so much better than just asking them to copy a given set of instructions and then running them.

Guess and Check

Provide completed code and ask your students to be detectives. By reading the lines of code, comments, or scanning for words they recognize, they can try to infer what the code will do. Then run the code and see if their guesses were accurate. This makes students keen observers and critical thinkers.

Use Templates to Jump Start Learning

Young programmers have the ability to understand the code, but don’t always have the keyboarding skills needed to type many lines of code accurately. When introducing specific coding concepts, consider giving the students templates with parts of the code already written. The students just add code to make the desired result.

Teach Debugging Early

Don’t wait until errors occur and students are frustrated with the inability to correct them. Near the beginning of the coding unit, have the students generate specific errors to break the code. Have them see the resulting problem. Then fix it. As a result, students will become familiar with common mistakes such as omitting characters, mistyping, or placing code in the wrong order. They will recognize errors and know how to correct them.

Provide Samples to Spark Inspiration

Before starting a new project, inspire students by showing them a completed sampler. The goal is to ignite their interest but not to provide a set of instructions for them to copy. The code becomes a guide for students. They can use it as a starting point or to compare their work for troubleshooting. The sampler becomes the foundation for students to produce their own original projects.

Offer Support References

Online programming reference lists and libraries are usually so complete and exhaustive that they are ominous for kids to use. Instead, build a list of basic commands that will be used in the project and have it handy for the class to use and check.

Present Opportunities for Extra Challenges

Differentiated learning studies have shown us that students build skills in a highly diverse way. When teaching coding to kids, they are certain to progress at different rates. Students who struggle need support, repetition, and review activities to grasp coding skills. Some students will ‘get’ the concepts quickly and be ready for new ways to apply and extend their learning. Be prepared for these young experts with optional challenges to keep them excited and involved.

Reflect on Learning

During, and definitely after the end of the project, provide an opportunity for students to think about their coding experience. Write a journal entry. Ask questions such as: What was your favorite part of the program? What was the hardest part of learning to program? Which skills would you like to learn next? What advice would you give to a person learning how to use this program?

Teaching Coding to Kids Using TechnoTurtle

teaching coding to kids

TechnoTurtle, a new project by TechnoKids Inc., is an introduction to Python coding for beginners. It is designed for elementary and middle school students to learn basic programming skills. The fun activities include building a maze, creating artwork and spirographs, and inventing interactive games. TechnoTurtle incorporates all the above strategies to inspire young programmers to acquire fundamental technology expertise.

Tips to Pick Robotics Kits Part 2

Here are a few more tips to pick robotics kits. They are the second part of a list of things to consider before investing in STEM and programming hardware.

Support Materials for the Teacher

We found some of the kits we looked at included some amazing resources. You could build your model by printing and following illustrated directions or even step-by-step instructions in 3D online! Lesson plans and teacher guides were sometimes included too.

tips to pick robotics kits

  • Does your kit come with a startup guide?
  • Is there an inventory sheet?
  • Is there an explanation of each part?
  • Are lesson plans provided?
    • Online – can they be downloaded?
    • In a printed booklet provided in the kit?
  • Support Materials for the Student

    Teachers often don’t have the time to design new and technical curriculum materials. Some robotics retailers offer student activity sheets, workbooks, and instructions.

  • Is there a student workbook?
    • Online – can it be downloaded?
    • In a printed booklet provided in the kit?
  • Are there building instructions?
    • Is there a variety of models from which to choose?
    • Are they age appropriately challenging?
  • Are there coding instructions that match the model built?
  • Is there opportunity for creativity?
    • Is exploration through trial and error encouraged?
    • Does the kit allow for students to design something of their own?

Programming Software

We also found that some of the kits we looked at were completely computer free. This was perfect for younger students as an introduction to programming. However, junior and middle school grades should include a programming element once the robot is built.

tips to pick robotics kits

  • Do your curriculum objectives for teaching robotics include coding or programming?
  • Does your kit require programming software?
    • Will it run on the device you intend? If you only have a PC, be sure the software is PC compatible.
    • If you have tablets in your classroom, find out if there is an app for your device.
    • Is your device new enough to run the software?
    • Many of these apps require Bluetooth connectivity with multiple components being connected to the device at one time. Some devices can only support a limited number of connections.
    • If you are using Chromebooks, not all Android software is compatible.
  • Is the software similar to other programs such as Scratch, with which your students might be familiar?
    • Will you require time to teach the software?
  • Are the robotics kits being used to develop programming skills that can be applied to the next level, for example, Scratch, Python, HTML5?
    • Tips to Pick Robotics Kits

      Take some time to read reviews online before you make your final purchase. Preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow starts early and should continue throughout the grades. And robotics are an essential part of teaching career readiness skills and a STEM program. Find the hands-on kit that suits your students best and is the optimum value for an always limited budget.

TechnoKids and Google Classroom

What Is Google Classroom?

TechnoKids and Google Classroom work very well together! Google Classroom is a free web service developed for schools by Google. It was designed to simplify the creation, distribution, and grading of assignments without the need for paper. Now, paired with TechnoKids Technology Projects, you’re good to go!

TechnoKids and Google Classroom

We recently set up our own Google Classroom to try it out. We quickly discovered how easily TechnoKids and Google Classroom work together. Attaching a TechnoKids PDF workbook file to a new Class assignment was very easy.  We found that along with a few instructions, students were able to answer questions electronically in the document and open a template file in a Google App like Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Drawings. It was not difficult to attach newly created documents or additional files.

Google Classroom icon

Submitting completed assignments is also quick and easy. The teacher can review the completed work, assign a grade, and offer any comments directly to the student.

Getting Started

To use TechnoKids with Google Classroom, you will need to add a Chrome extension to your browser. This allows users to annotate the TechnoKids PDF worksheet files directly in the browser, save the changes, and submit them for grading. We suggest using either Kami or XODO extensions.

What You Need to Know

The first thing you need to do is create a Class in Google Classroom. Add your students simply by sharing a class code with the class or invite students by email. We found the former was the quickest where the student joined the class by simply typing in the code. The latter requires the student to open the email invite and click the Join link.

Next, you’ll need to upload the TechnoKids project resources to your Class Drive folder. This puts all the resources you’ll need to create assignments in one convenient spot.

Now you’re ready to create an assignment and issue it to your class. Open the first TechnoKids project assignment and read the instructions. Determine if the student needs to add answers to this document, do they need an added template file to complete the activity, or are they merely going to follow the directions to create a new document in Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Drawings? Next, create a new assignment in your Class, attach the worksheet and any other necessary files. Set the user permission to give the student access to read or write to the file(s). Give the assignment a grade value and a due date, then place it into the TechnoKids project category.

The student opens the assignment in their Class to follow the instructions and complete the activity. The convenient Turn in option will alert the teacher when the assignment is ready for grading.

All in all, we found that our resource materials work very well with Google Classroom.

Support

If you think you still need some help getting started with TechnoKids and Google Classroom, we have put together some supportive Q&A’s here.

Watch Our Google Classroom playlist!

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