Teaching children how to harness technology to create, solve problems and collaborate is essential in early elementary education to introduce today’s youth to the goal-oriented skills they need to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Students in kindergarten are at an ideal age to begin learning coding concepts because they are not afraid to try new things. They have grown up with technology from the earliest age, so they are comfortable with it. Students at this age are willing to tinker and explore because they aren’t typically afraid of failure.
Getting students (even those in kindergarten) to think with an engineering and developing mindset sets them up to master future skills in an evolving, digital world. Coding helps develop this mindset by introducing framework to solve problems. Students are taught to identify the problem, execute a plan, and then evaluate it to see whether or not their plan worked. If it did not work, they can figure out why, and then go back and correct the problem.
Coding education is an integral part of this process with broad implications for math and literacy skills. By introducing malleable minds to critical thinking skills through the means of technology, children will be better prepared to tackle future problems in any field.
I chose to introduce coding to my kindergarten classroom using a tool they were genuinely interested in: Dash and Dot robots from Wonder Workshop via crowdfunding from DonorsChoose.org. I was able to raise $700 dollars that was matched by the Donors Choose program.
Introducing coding to families
This year, I introduced coding with the robots as an icebreaker on Meet Your Teacher Night, an event for parents, teachers and students. The kids were excited to see an actual robot (not one from movies or on TV) in their classroom. They were even more excited when they found out they’d soon learn to operate them. It was the perfect way to ease the nerves and awkwardness and introduce parents to the basic coding skills their kindergarteners would soon learn.
Reactions from parents at Meet Your Teacher Night ranged from disbelief to genuine curiosity. Many parents needed some explanation as to why their five-year-old would need to learn coding. I explain coding to parents as a form of literacy. Just as kids will grow up in a world where reading is vital, the same could be said for an understanding of computers and technology. Our school is nestled right in downtown Oklahoma City, surrounded by tall buildings and thriving businesses. Motivation to be a part of 21st century technology lies right outside our classroom windows, and now lies within our classroom as well.
Coding has changed the thought process of my students. When students use programming or coding, they work toward an end goal. Using the applications for Dash and Dot, students give the robots instructions that will lead to the completion of a task. They have to determine an outcome and find the path that leads them there by programming the robot or computer. Understanding coding sequences as a means of achieving an end goal is a valuable skill to develop, and I see it affecting many areas in the classroom.
I’ve created coding activities to teach a number of concepts, including math and literacy. Because students will accept any challenge to play with the robots, I employ Dash to teach and practice letters, numbers, sight words and math concepts. For example, I put out letter cards or sight words and have the students draw a path with a series of commands to get Dash to the correct letter or word. In these activities, students use coding operations to complete tasks while demonstrating their understanding in relevant subject areas.
Identifying an end result and take steps to get there is great strategy to use in math. It also helps kids see how a series of events can lead to a conclusion, which they can then show in their writing or use to aid in reading comprehension. Classroom etiquette and behavior can even be affected positively through coding. If a student can see the steps towards a desired behavior, they will make sure the teacher sees that behavior.
When my students are coding, they don’t realize that they are working on math or reading. If I can integrate coding into some of the other subjects that I teach, it makes it easier to engage my kids.
Using the robots to support struggling students has been one of the most unexpected and incredible surprises in my classroom. One student with speech challenges had a hard time with sight words and with letter sounds, which made her self-confidence suffer. Soon enough, I discovered that she loved Dash and Dot and excelled in controlling them. In fact, she was the best in my class at controlling the robots, and she was the most confident. I let her use Dash as much as I could to navigate to sight words, to drive to letters, and to practice writing letters that made given sounds. From the beginning of the second semester to the end of the school year, she went from a retention candidate to an automatic promotion. In order to provide extra support and strengthen this student’s reading abilities, I used coding activities to make her feel comfortable with both literacy and coding skills.
I am excited about how my students have responded to coding instruction and I can’t wait to see what they can do with more time in the classroom.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but I thought that coding would be a part of it. As it turns out, coding is the present.
Wes Dicken teaches kindergarten at John Rex Charter Elementary School in Oklahoma City and blogs about his experiences at thekindergartenguy.blogspot.com.