Year Five students are involved in a “How the World Works” unit where the central idea was “Exploration and innovation in robotics is changing society and the environment.” Students are inquiring along these lines: exploring and investigating robotics, impact of robotics on society and the environment, and creativity and innovation in robotics.
One theme we see in student thinking is how robotic innovation can solve problems. One of the tasks of the unit is to have students design something to solve a problem. They do this by prototyping with physical materials together with SAM Labs wireless electronic ‘blocks’ such as buttons, light sensors, motors, and LED lights. Solutions involve inputs, processing, and outputs. This is one of the fundamental parts of computational thinking. Students are also learning problem-solving by decomposing big problems into smaller parts in order to create a solution for each of the parts. They also find that iteration helps to reach a solution and that it is best to change only one thing at a time to see the effect.
Coding. Everyone is talking about it. Experts are saying that we need to teach our kids to code to prepare them for jobs of the future. Many people say that computational thinking is now just as important as knowing how to read. But what about our younger students? If computational thinking is an essential skill for future careers, how can we ensure that all our students are exposed to these skills?
Coding is not just a skill, but also a literacy. Computational thinking is simply the ability to follow a step-by-step process to solve a problem. We do it every day in our daily lives- when we tie our shoelaces, when we make a sandwich or even when we get ready for school every morning. Algorithms, or step-by-step procedures, are a part of our daily lives and they don’t have to be taught using computers or robots. Unplugged activities, using physical, real-world objects, are a great way to introduce the idea of coding and programming to our younger students.
In the EY and Y1, we’ve had a lot of fun exploring communication skills and directional language through coding unplugged activities. This allows students to build mathematical communication skills through visual, concrete approaches. Learning experiences that involve coding enable students to develop skills related to mapping, the position of objects in space, and the relationships between different objects in space. Our younger students have learned to give clear directions, follow directions and develop critical thinking skills. While working together in partners and groups, they’ve developed their cooperative skills and gained greater empathy for others. Debugging requires a lot of persistence and analysis, which helps students increase their metacognitive skills and develop perseverance.
This semester, classes in EY and Year 1 will be exploring Computer Science through experiences such as following algorithms in action songs and creating programs with event blocks and symbols, using checkerboards and large Lego bricks. Writing code to make a computer or person move or perform a task requires the programmer to be metacognitive about how to communicate effectively to bring about the intended actions. As students write code or give instructions, they are anticipating how their instructions will be understood and executed by a computer or other humans, something that requires them to become metacognitive about their mathematical communication. This then leads to a better understanding of the skills needed for coding online, when students can explore sequencing and conditional situations through apps such as Kodable.
Computational thinking is a part of our daily lives and even our Early Years and Year 1 students can learn to code!
Students across the school at NIST, from the Early Years to Year 13 diploma students, have been creating dances and games throughout Computer Science Education Week. Classes from the Elementary school have teamed with Secondary school students to create their own dance parties and participate in Hour of Code events. Our Year 13 Computer Science students created a curated list of activities for their fellow secondary students, and the younger students loved the activities chosen. Year 12 and 13 Computer Science students also ran Hour of Code sessions for some Year 7- 9 classes.
In the Elementary School, some students have created their own games using Scratch and have started learning Swift through Apple’s Swift Playgrounds, others have participated in coding unplugged activities, and many are learning to code using Kodable. Even our youngest students in the Early Years are learning to code, creating their own movement programs with giant Lego bricks! Our students are learning to code both online and offline and are developing the skills needed for the future of work in 2030, such as effective communication, creative and critical thinking, problem-solving and people skills.
Try your own Hour of Code activity. Better yet, create something as a family.
What will you create?