Need To Know
- Computer science is an important part of STEAM learning.
- Coding is a great way to get started (or grow) in understanding computer science.
- There are plenty of approachable ways to integrate coding in the classroom that drive learning and student enjoyment!
A Closer Look
STEAM competency has been at the forefront of education for the last decade. There’s no sign of slowed momentum either. On the contrary, computer science seems to have an ever-growing presence in students’ lives, both inside and outside the classroom.
For many kids and teens, computer science (CS) comes down to fun. It’s exciting, engaging, and can appeal to a wide range of student interests, not to mention the rewards for productive decision-making are all but instantaneous.
Computer science also helps kids and teens:
- Improve math reasoning and problem-solving skills.
- Grow as efficient writers.
- Increase language capacity (coding is a language!).
- Build resilience and confidence.
- Foster creativity.
- Boost 21st-century edge.
Coding can integrate into virtually any subject area, and it’s relatively easy to “get into”— even with no prior computer programming experience. These five strategies are perfectly fun (and purposeful) on-ramps:
1. Look for coding in day-to-day life.
“Coding, or computer programming, is built on three basic logic patterns,” says Emily de la Pena for Coding Kids. “Sequencing, branching, and looping.” These patterns aren’t just for the screen—they exist in our day-to-day lives. Teaching kids to recognize and manipulate sequences, branches, and loops in the world around them builds a natural foundation for computer programming. Looking for a place to start? Check out the “coding” of a PB&J sandwich and snow day activities here!
2. Get moving.
“I love computing and coding, but I always start my computing unit without touching a computer!” Fifth-grade teacher Simon Hunt continues, “My first coding lesson always starts with a dance or routine that the children are into at the time.” How do these two activities fit together? Choreographed movement, essentially, is an algorithm. In Hunt’s lesson, kids work together to figure out the algorithm of a popular dance. In a reverse application, Dance Party from Code.org invites learners to use programming basics to code and share their dances!
3. See it as an art.
Art and coding aren’t so far apart. They both rely upon the same set of skills, says the Art of Education University: problem-solving and design. And, for kids who are naturally drawn to art-making, creative programming is a perfect on-ramp to coding basics. Tynker’s Math Art and Scratch from MIT are good places to start. There are many “unplugged” options, too, like the “Little Artist Inside Your Computer” by CodeSpeak Labs. “Kids find it easy to use creative coding as a stepping stone to get into programming,” writes Jun Wu. “[Many] find it fascinating to use creative coding to explore more logical subjects such as math, biological sciences, architecture, and engineering.”
4. Get hands-on.
Not all computer science learning is tech-driven. “Unplugged” coding activities can be transformative, too. For example, Washoe County Library offers this offline coding activity that only requires a deck of playing cards. Hour of Code shares ideas for networking a neighborhood, encoding an emoji, and sending a secret message (available in English and Spanish). “Unplugged coding activities come in handy when you want students to visualize a certain programming concept that they have been struggling with,” says Code Monkey. “They are relatively easy to carry out and work wonders with helping students collaborate and develop computational and algorithmic thinking skills.”
5. Learn through gamification.
Gamification may seem like a buzzword, but it is a deeply embedded aspect of human learning. Gameplay, as an instructional tool, increases engagement and drives knowledge acquisition. It’s fun, it’s “addictive,” and it provides participants with real-time feedback (meaning, a move gets you closer to the goal or it doesn’t— an opportunity to reevaluate and try again). What better way to teach coding than through a gamified version of programming? Codemancer, for example, walks players through a world in which the way magic works in the heroine’s world is the way programming works in ours. By engaging with the game, Codemancer players develop increasingly complex programming skills.