You may have seen media articles recently about kids learning coding and programming. Here is one featuring the kids from our school. We were also featured on Lateline last week. I used to be a skeptic but now I am an enthusiastic advocate of teaching coding to Kindergarten kids. It doesn’t have to be daunting or scary and it doesn’t mean that the teacher has to be a “computer nerd” or consider themselves to be a computer expert.
I have been teaching ICT in primary schools for almost 15 years. It is no coincidence that that is same length of time that I have been a teacher. Every teacher is teaching about information technology and teaching with a range of different types of technology. I believe this is the job of every teacher. My teaching journey has included almost 9 years of teaching in a computer lab where my week included teaching a range of classes using computers and partnering with teachers to embed more technology into their lessons. I do not consider myself to be a computer nerd at all. I have grown up during the 1980’s and 1990’s using current technologies to learn and develop skills. I never spent time coding or programming in order to build software.
I do however enjoy thinking through hypothetical situations, working out what I can do with new software or tools and trying to show kids and teachers how to use a range of web 2.0 tools to create and explore new ideas. During my time in computer labs I have enjoyed most the lessons where I could show kids an idea I had started to think about and then watch how they developed those ideas. I think this is why I love teaching Kindergarten. We explore and expand new ideas all day every day.
Despite the fact that this is how I approached teaching, I still resisted teaching coding. I still thought that it was too difficult, not interesting enough and not creative.
I was wrong.
Over the last 4 years or so I have changed my mind completely. I have been introduced to what can be explored when you start to really think through coding. Seeing colleagues like Edwin Tomlins using coding in a variety of ways in his classroom have helped me see how motivating and authentic the learning can be. I have realised that “programming” is giving the computer, robot or device and set of instructions and then testing, refining and retesting to see if you can make it do what you want it to. The teacher doesn’t have to come up with a magic formula to make it interesting. It is intrinsically fun, challenging and motivating all at the same time. You are learning ways to create. You are solving problems. You are thinking through ideas when you code. Most importantly I think you can’t underestimate what kids can come up with.
In my classroom I love using Beebots to introduce kids to the idea of coding. I love watching my students explore how to use them. Beebots are a perfect introduction because they are designed for young children to be able to use easily, but they also offer so many options for what you can do. Tasks can be open-ended and challenging but also independently achievable for young students. Over the last week we have been using the Beebots in our classroom to practice reading using a mat which has pictures of CVC words. Students turn over a card with the word written on it and they have to read the word and then program their Beebot to get to the correct picture. Sometimes the kids realise that their program is not correct and they end up on the wrong picture, so they clear the program and have another go. The sense of achievement when it stops on the correct word is very rewarding. We have also been using both the computer software and the app. Another benefit is that they naturally teach one another. They share ideas, offer suggestions and realise their mistakes together. The teacher is just an observer to the learning, the students are the experts. There are so many different mats to choose from to practise a range of skills at the same time as practising the programming.
This was demonstrated yesterday when KC went and taught another Kindergarten class how to use the Beebots. KC have been using them for approximately 4 weeks and now they are the teachers for students who haven’t used them before. We had so much fun playing with our Beebots- 40 Kindergarten students on task all at the same time! The students think they are getting to play- the teachers know that they are learning valuable lessons.
Last weekend I was very privileged to attend the Sydney final of the Young ICT Explorers. Check out their website to find out more about the competition. It was an exciting day filled with passionate, excited kids explaining and demonstrating projects that they had developed to solve problems. As a teacher I watched in awe as students as young as year 3 conversed with peers in year 11 and 12 about how they had developed their project and how they had solved the problems they had encountered.
Coding and programming is now an integral part of my Kindergarten classroom. I am keen to use more devices and expand my ideas to offer my class (and other classes) as many opportunities as I can. I am looking forward to learning from them, letting them explore new ideas and watching them grow in confidence.