Coding Curriculum Ideas to Engage Every Student
Some students love group projects. Others prefer solo work. And others may want one-on-one instruction from their educators. Whatever they prefer, every student deserves to feel supported by their education - and computer science curriculum is no exception.
For a subject like coding, some students may worry that only their independent, math-inclined peers will naturally succeed. But with an inclusive and diversified curriculum, coding for kids becomes more accessible and understandable.
Let’s dive into some coding curriculum ideas to help engage students of all backgrounds and learning styles.
When learning the fundamentals of driving, you don’t immediately plop behind the wheel—that’s a recipe for disaster! Instead, you begin with observation and study. The exact same goes for coding.
Unless they’re a real computer whiz, most young children don’t know what coding sequences even look like. To start on the right foot, educators should present clear examples of common coding processes, from correcting errors to breaking down problems into subgoals.
However, it’s important to keep demonstrations from becoming boring lectures. Sprinkle in a little fun and engagement with these tips:
Encourage retention – Have students write down or copy key coding concepts.
Keep the questions going – Don’t be afraid to ask students for potential answers or predictions.
Utilize visual aids – Use computer screen capture or interactive slides to visualize models.
Get creative with context and metaphors – Bring kid-friendly characters or everyday situations to explain programming concepts.
- Establish an open forum environment – Always welcome student questions.
Use Block-Building Exercises
Everyone loves the idea of unlimited creative freedom—that is, until you’re given it. All of a sudden, your mind is as blank as the canvas in front of you.
Coding classes often fall into this trap, letting students loose with too little guidance. With zero rules or context, young learners can falter at open-ended assignments.
How do you keep students from feeling overwhelmed? Build up progress with a broad range of supportive exercises.1 Some types to consider for young coders:
- Multiple choice questions – To teach specific language rules or sequence knowledge, use multiple choice questions. This allows teachers to identify common misconceptions, and explain why a particular choice works over other possibilities.
- Code reviews – Error identification is a major coding skill. Code reviews are an excellent way to sharpen a student’s eye for common mistakes. Place a correct and flawed version of the same code sequence side-by-side, and leave students to pick up on any errors.
- Parsons Problems – A coding-specific exercise, Parsons Problems give students prewritten lines of code that solve a problem—however, they must order the mixed-up lines correctly. This gives kids the chance to focus on proper sequencing, instead of all aspects of coding.
Practice Live with Students
Need a way to slow down lessons without losing class interest? Time to try live coding.
Live coding demonstrations break down solutions in real time, improving concept absorption.2 By adding student participation in the mix, you also keep beginner and advanced learners engaged.
Think of participatory live coding like a cheerleading pyramid—every person builds on the last step to reach a final solution. In a typical session, an instructor would:
Present a coding problem on a shareable screen.
Write or narrate the initial line of code.
Ask one student to write the next line of code, explaining their thought process.
Evaluate the student’s code, asking for any needed error corrections.
Have students “code-along” with each new line, copying it on their own systems.
- Repeat steps 3 to 5 with a new student, until the solution is fully executed.
This method not only brings lessons down to a followable pace, but also harnesses the encouraging power of teamwork. Pull out a live coding problem for the perfect blend of observation and participation.
Mix It Up With Media
Technically, coding is the learning of languages. But most coded products—video games, smartphone apps, even certain software—directly add to our visual, media-filled world.
Want to keep students entertained and engaged? Embrace media in coding courses. Not only do students love working with recognizable characters, but it also helps them retain and comprehend information—particularly for coding.3
Some ways to build children’s media into your lesson:
- Assign a protagonist – When demonstrating coding sequences, use students’ favorite characters as “lead actors” in the narrative. For example, if teaching how to code a simple maze, have kids explain and explore their maze with a beloved character from a movie, TV show, or other story.
- Deconstruct a video game’s design – Bring in a popular video game to observe (you can even take a poll for class favorites). Ask students about coding problems that the creators may have faced. Kids can then try and replicate one command or action from the game by writing their own sequence.
- Replicate a movie plot – Save this activity for more advanced coders. Have students pick a relatively linear movie and deconstruct the plotline. Then, ask them to create a simple game design that follows the same narrative steps. You’ll build reading comprehension while enforcing coding concepts like conditionals and loops.
Draw Real-Life Connections
A student may ask, why teach coding when it seems like such a niche and useless skill? Although, in reality, coding touches almost every part of modern life. Not to mention, learning to code can significantly help students comprehend other academic subjects.
From the classroom to the boardroom, let’s examine ways to connect coding to real-life use.
At the end of the day, learning how to think outweighs learning what to think. Coding class perfectly embodies this principle.
Programming is like a mental gym, strengthening analytical, creative, and problem-solving “muscles” that translate to other classes. Even better, you can actively incorporate academic subjects into coding projects, encouraging this crossover thinking.
A few ways to pair academics with coding:
- English – Despite its “left-brain” reputation, coding is quite a creative process. After all, coding uses language to create a linear path or story—just like a novel. Bring books to life by having students break down a plot into codable actions and then instruct a robot, game, or program to follow the same narrative.
- Math – Logic, formulas, and sequences are just a few overlaps between coding and math. Coding can also provide visual models of math functions, showing abstract concepts in a new light. For example, students can program a graph to gradually develop coordinate points, demonstrating the build of a pattern over time.
- Science – All coding has a dash of trial-and-error thinking. Students can bring this experimental mindframe to science courses, using data analysis to make better predictions. This further bridges the gap between the lab and computer room by having students code a measurement converter for temperature or volume.
When people think of coding, they usually think of computers or smartphones. But coding’s reach is far wider than our devices. Everything from hospitals to electricity grids rely on computer programming to function.
Kids may not yet recognize how often they interact with coding on a daily basis. To give them a taste, it’s important to weave real-life examples of coding into their work.
From communication to design, here are few projects that demonstrate coding’s practical use:
- Create a school logo – In today’s online world, all companies want a digital presence. Due to this demand, computer-based graphic design jobs are expected to grow over the next decade.4 Show the artistic side of coding by having students design a logo for their school. For bonus points, they can also code a voting system to elect the best design.
- Write and send messages – Simple yet practical, binary messages are a fun way to demonstrate the basics of common text-based software. With the binary alphabet, students can send each other “coded” messages, building in complexity as they grow in skill.
- Build an app – At this point, almost every child has used a smartphone. Show them that apps aren’t just magic buttons but programs that even they can create. Start simple by having students program apps for handling calculations, lists, or other basic commands.
Get Off the Screen
That’s right—you don’t need a computer to learn coding.
In fact, most basic programming concepts are easily learned off-screen. And by getting kids out of their chairs, you’re more likely to keep them interested.
Check out a few ways to teach coding anytime, anywhere:
- Binary Beads – Every command can be translated into binary code, the core of all programming languages. Teach children simple translations by making beaded binary necklaces of their names! They’ll have a blast turning letters into fun strings of 0’s and 1’s.
- Sandwich Sequences – Coding is a cumulative process—i.e., every step builds on the last. To demonstrate the importance of order, have a student make a sandwich and write down every step they took. Then, pass the instructions along to another student. Most kids will accidentally change the procedure, creating a different outcome.
- Command cards – Before learning any coding languages, kids can understand the structure of coding. Print out cards with directions for moving left, right, up, and down. Place an action figure or toy on a grid, and have students draw cards to determine its movements. After a few rounds, lay out all used direction cards in order—voila! A visual sequence akin to coding.
Keep Coding Curriculum Inclusive with Disney Codeillusion
The computer science industry faces a deep-set lack of diversity, fueled by outdated learning models and stereotypes of “successful” coders.5
A way to battle these demographic gaps? Start by creating an inclusive and encouraging environment in coding classrooms with Disney Codeillusion’s engaging and entertaining learning program.
With our immersive coding lessons, your curriculum will accommodate rather than discourage students. And you’ll teach the greatest coding lesson of all—that anyone can learn to code, no matter their background.
Start today with Disney Codeilusion!
- Wilson, Greg. Ten quick tips for delivering programming lessons. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6822703/
- Rubin, Marc J. The effectiveness of live-coding to teach introductory programming. https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/2445196.2445388
- Guzdial, Mark. Exploring Hypotheses about Media Computation. https://carpentries.github.io/instructor-training/files/papers/guzdial-mediacomp-retrospective-2013.pdf
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graphic Designers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm
- Google. Diversity Gaps in Computer Science: Exploring the Underrepresentation of Girls, Blacks and Hispanics. https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/diversity-gaps-in-computer-science-report.pdf