Students are learning programming skills at younger ages than ever before, sometimes starting as early as Kindergarten. While the prospect of teaching a group of elementary kids some basic coding skills may seem daunting, especially if you aren’t a computer whiz yourself, the upsides are tremendous.
Students who have been exposed to coding early have been demonstrated to be more confident, to have greater digital literacy, to be more flexible learners who can understand multiple learning styles, and to be stronger critical and computational thinkers. Plus, if you think of code as a language, then it’s one of the most common languages in the world—a language that students will need to master to succeed later in life. Finally, as with all languages, the younger students are when they learn, the more quickly they will catch on and the more fluent they will become.
3 Tips for Teaching Kids How To Code in the Classroom
Not only is it fairly simple to teach kids how to code, it’s also incredibly rewarding for both you and your students. At its core, coding is about problem-solving and creativity, which are skills that all children ought to be learning in school. Even better, coding lends itself well to game-based learning. What kid wouldn’t love the feeling of coding an easy game or animation and watching it come to life on the big screen?
If you’re still feeling nervous about bringing programming skills into your curriculum, never fear. We’ve compiled some helpful tips and easy apps to start you out on the right foot:
1. Choose the Right Language.
It’s important that you don’t start students off with a coding language that is too complicated for them to understand, like Java or C#. Instead use a visual language like Scratch or a touch-based program like Cargo-Bot or Daisy the Dinosaur to teach coding logic and other basics to young elementary students. These programs are especially good for students who can’t type yet. For older students, go with a language with simple syntax like Python.
2. Make it a Hands-On Activity.
Teaching coding skills to elementary students should be simple, and there are definitely right ways and wrong ways to approach the subject. The absolute worst way to teach coding to kids is from a book or by talking at them using complex, abstract concepts. Even if you are a software developer yourself, resist the urge to share all of your knowledge or overload students with all the computer science behind the code.
Similar to other languages, students should begin with mimicry and real-world, interactive practice rather than trying to wade through the written word (or…code). Coding ought to be a hands-on activity that requires lots of experimentation and trial-and-error. Some best practices to follow when teaching coding in the classroom:
- Give students individual practice. Try to give every student their own computer or tablet for practice. If that isn’t possible, practice code on your Clear Touch Interactive® display and allow students to take turns entering their code from a connected device to see what happens.
- Take a hands-off approach. Remember not to jump in and solve the problem or type a line of code when working with your students. It may be tempting to take over yourself to make the process go faster, but the students won’t build their muscle memory that way. As much as possible, keep your hands away from the keyboard and mouse. If you need to show the students how to do something, point to the screen instead of commandeering the mouse and clicking yourself. Or, model the action on your interactive panel and then allow students to copy you, typing and modifying the code themselves.
- Look up source code. One of the best ways to teach your students how to learn through mimicry is to look up the source code for small games. Choose games that have about 100 lines of code or less and let your students practice making modifications to the code to see what happens to the program.
3. Make it a Game.
Helping students learn how to code simple video games is an easy entry point for young programmers. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that many of your students are already doing this with some of their favorite games, like Minecraft, Angry Birds, and Five Nights at Freddy’s. For younger students, sites like Tynker have some simple starter game modifications. For older students who are experimenting with Python, this list of 49 Game Clones is a great place to start or to send students for practice.
The Best Apps to Teach Children Coding Skills
Fortunately, there are a number of fantastic apps and websites that have been designed to teach young children how to code. All of our favorites are free or almost free to use, take a hands-on, game-based approach and, best of all, require almost no coding expertise to use.
Developed by MIT students, Scratch is more than an app to teach coding. It’s an entire visual coding language made up of blocks that snap together to animate sprites. Since blocks that don’t make computational sense won’t connect, syntax errors are impossible. The drag-and-drop graphical interface is ideal for use with an interactive, multi-touch display and great for visual learners and students who haven’t learned to type yet. Scratch features a web-based platform, has an active community of enthusiasts, and is completely free to use.
Hopscotch is comparable to Scratch and Tynker, using similar controls to drag blocks of code into a workspace, but it is only available as a free download on the app store for iOS devices. If your classroom has iPads, though, this is a great option. The platform includes lots of interactive student examples created by other kids around the world, and teachers can set up a free educator profile to access tons of beginner lesson plans and coding curriculums. Daisy the Dinosaur was created by the makers of Hopscotch to target the youngest coders. The ultra-simplified interface features only one dinosaur to move and very basic commands, which makes it an excellent introduction to coding.
This gamified programming app builds on the classic Logo programming language (and the classic Logo turtle) to introduce kids ages 5+ to basic programming procedures. Your students can play and learn by completing simple tasks and progress to more advanced concepts such as loops, procedures, variables and conditional instructions. There’s even a free play Compose mode that allows kids to create their own programs from scratch. Move the Turtle is available for download on iOS (iPad and iPhone) for $2.99.
Making your coding curriculum completely hands-on becomes even easier when you integrate your lesson plans with an interactive, multi-touch display. Since Clear Touch™ offers 20 points of touch for Mac, even the iOS-only apps we’ve listed will run smoothly on our display, allowing you to get the entire class involved and allowing multiple students to work together as they drag-and-drop, experiment, and make modifications to their favorite games. Plus, with simple screen sharing and wireless connectivity to multiple devices, students can follow self-paced coding quests on their own devices at their desks and then connect to present their work to the class.