"Computing isn't about computers,” remarks Paul Curzon, one of CS4FN’s authors. Computer science, or CS, “is about people, solving puzzles, creativity, changing the future and, most of all, having fun.” As educators, that’s what we’re aiming for, isn’t it? Learning and fun.
Let’s talk about the learning part. CS is an important 21st-century skill- one that our students will need in order to effectively participate in the socio-economic landscapes of adulthood. Engaging in computer science strengthens aptitudes like logic and analytic processing, which have enormous cross-content carryover.
“Computer science is the study of problem-solving. A computer scientist views a computer the way an astronomer views a telescope. It’s a way to get at what you’re really interested in studying”, explains CS professor Mehran Sahami. At the core of computer science is something called ‘algorithmic thinking’- the process of analyzing and problem-solving in a step-by-step fashion. Through CS, students learn to apply creativity, critical thinking, and systematic patterns in order to solve a wide variety of real-world challenges.
But computer science doesn’t always have to be, well, so scientific. It can also be used to create magic tricks, play games, and crack secret codes...all while teaching students to think like a computer.
If you’re wondering where to start or looking for new ways to embed CS in the learning day, there’s good news- computer science is virtually everywhere. Here are some fun ways to incorporate CS into any classroom.
Active Play & Physical Education
“One way to make coding for kids engaging is to mix it with active games.” This is the message behind Unruly Splats, a K-8 STEM platform that combines epic coding for kids with interactive play. “Students are naturally great at creating their own games on the playground and understanding the rules for games is the first step in computational thinking. After all, the rules for the games are the rules for the code!”
With Unruly Splats, students use their creativity to build interactive recess-style challenges using code. Or, remote learners can make virtual games with lights, sounds, and colors with virtual Splats or Splats at home. The rules for the game are the rules for the code. By adjusting the code, students can modify games and make their own rules (like adding a timer into the play). These tweaks to the code help students learn problem-solving skills and foster both creativity and student ownership. Traditional play structures, like Four Corners or Whack-a-Mole, take on a whole new level of learning fun!
For as long as humans have existed, we’ve communicated through stories. “How we tell and experience stories has evolved over the years,” notes The Resilience Educator. “Today, technology has made storytelling more interactive. We can now become a part of the story.” Digital stories build on oral tradition by using computer-based tools to integrate dynamic media elements. The process can take any number of shapes. For example, students might create their own blogs, websites, photo diaries, social media pages, movies, slideshows, or virtual journals in HTML. And, they may enhance their stories with images, music, recordings, animation, or special effects. Students may also use digital storytelling software or editing tools as a part of the process.
There are many benefits to creating and watching digital stories, including “the potential to increase the information literacy of a wide range of students”. (Educause Learning Initiative, 2020). In fact, engaging in digital storytelling develops proficiency with multimedia applications, encourages critical thinking and supports affirmative self-concept.
Art & Music
Dr. Lucy Kosturko believes that music and CS naturally mirror one another. “Musicians read sheet music. Sheet music contains a series of instructions written in a well-defined language establishing things like instrumentation, duration, and pitch,” she writes. “Computer code, again a series of instructions (in this case read by a computer instead of a cellist), can be one of many well-defined computer languages that adhere to rules of notation and syntax, not unlike a Bach chorale.”
Music and coding are not only structurally similar- they are also mutually supportive. Kids4Coding Co-Founder AnnMarie shares that, “By composing and remixing music, students learn complex programming languages in a creative context, allowing for experimentation with music and code without prior knowledge of either one.”
How can music and CS be integrated into the classroom setting? Students can use digital tools to create their own music videos or run MIDI conversions. Cathy Truesdale, a PreK to 4th Grade Music and Performing Arts teacher at Canterbury School in Florida, recommends working with students to code favorite tunes or holiday songs- and then encouraging students to create special effects with Unruly Splats.
There’s never been a more important time for young people to learn to how exercise their voice in responsible ways. A recent call to action from the AACU reads: “To prepare students for responsible leadership in an increasingly interconnected and technological world, [schools] are seeking strategies for connecting science and technology education with civic and social understanding. [This approach] can help students see science and technology in the larger contexts of public policy and quality of life while also promoting collaborative capabilities, critical thinking and communication abilities, and professional skills.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Day of Civic Hacking offers a great start point. The initiative “promotes citizens and developers working together using publicly available data, code, and technology to reach solutions that better communities and associated governments.” The National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement recommends using CS to re-envision traditional simulations, (for example, “stimulating a professional work environment by trading emails, planning meetings, and conducting research” or employing programs such as iCivics that provide real-time feedback). Teachers can also invite simulation using tools like Unruly Splats, which can be programmed to teach kids about voting through coding.
With computer science, there’s room for discovery and adventure. “We should celebrate computer science because it is a beautiful, challenging subject that can leave students with a love of learning and an appreciation for problem solving—and then inspire them to use that telescope to explore the wonders of the universe.”
Ready for more? Check out these additional resources!
The Colorado Department of Education offers an entire bank of computer science resources for educators.
Computer Science For Fun offers a wide range of CS activities designed to inspire and excite students.
Looking to get kids moving, too? Unruly Splats combines active physical play with tough-to-learn concepts in technology.
Left Brain Craft Brain keeps tabs on “plugged” and “unplugged” CS and coding activities!