Offline coding activities are an excellent way to introduce children to programming concepts. Consider the inclusion of unplugged exercises to promote computational thinking. These can be interwoven throughout a coding unit or as a jump-off point prior to beginning a project. Refer to the bottom of the article for a free offline coding activity from the technology project TechnoTales published by TechnoKids Inc.
Why Teach Offline Coding Activities?
Why teach offline coding activities when kids can use apps to build their own scripts and watch them run? Isn’t hands-on learning by building scripts more meaningful?
It is true. There are many apps and text-based editors that are ideal for teaching children about programming. Primary or elementary students will find Scratch Jr or Scratch a fun and easy way to create interactive stories and animated scenes using color-coded blocks. As well, middle or high school students will enjoy writing scripts to build a web page using HTML or a simple game in Python.
In these cases, the focus of instruction tends to be upon knowing the function of coding blocks or commands. However, a prerequisite skill to coding is the ability to decompose complex tasks, express ideas using symbols, sequence steps, apply logic, and plot coordinates. This is where offline coding activities are beneficial. They remove the emphasis from the technology and instead place it upon computational thinking skills.
Consider the four ways offline coding activities can provide a foundation for learning about programming:
Divide a Task into a Set of Instructions
A program is a set of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Most have many parts that work together to complete a task. Before students can start to build scripts, they must first have the ability to divide a task into smaller pieces. Offline coding activities that have students make an ordered list of steps are a great way to teach decomposition. For example, writing how-to instructions, recipes, or directions will help students develop the analytical skills required to think like a programmer.
Form a Connection Between Symbols and Ideas
A programmer writes code which is like a secret language. They use commands in the form of symbols, keywords, or phrase to produce a set of instructions. This requires an abstract way of thinking. Offline coding activities can help students represent ideas using objects. For example, writing directions to reach a specific destination using up ↑, down ↓, left ←, and right → arrows is an ideal way to practice expressing an idea using symbols.
The commands in a script must be sequenced to complete a specific task. A programmer must determine what should happen and when. Offline coding activities that require students to order items is one way to develop a systematic way of thinking. For example, sequencing story events, listing significant milestones chronically, or reorganizing stages of a life cycle are some ways to foster logical reasoning.
Apply Logic Reasoning to Control an Outcome
Some parts of a program will only run if a condition is true. Conditional logic can be complex to code for beginners. Offline activities that connect daily life to if-then statements are one way to establish understanding of this concept. For example, students can identify what happens if a power button is pushed on a tv, the school bell rings, or the teacher is talking. These common occurrences will help students understand how conditions are used to control events.
Plot Coordinates to Position Objects
The function of some programs is to place or move objects. This may be done to control the action of a robot, video game player, or character. This requires an understanding of x and y coordinates to plot the movement. Typically, plotting ordinals is not taught until middle school. However, some coding apps such as Scratch require this knowledge to animate objects efficiently. Fun offline coding exercise can help provide a foundation for understanding how to position objects. For example, identifying a location on a map using longitude and longitude is one way to establish the purpose of coordinates. Another option is to design a dot-to-dot drawing on a grid that has an ordered list of x and y values for each dot.
Free Offline Coding Activity
If you are interested in helping students develop computational thinking skills download the free offline coding activity Design Your Own Quest. It is from the technology project, TechnoTales. In the activity, students write instructions to move a knight to a specific place on the map using up ↑, down ↓, left ←, and right → arrows.
TechnoTales uses Scratch Jr to animate a modern fairy tale. Scripts are used to tell the story of a hero that embarks on a quest to solve a problem. The character must find a hidden item and a helper to live happily ever after. This fun storytelling activity blends creative writing with coding. The lessons are ideal for primary and elementary students.