How to Teach Coding: Tips and Insights to Help You Get Started
Coding, an application of computer science, determines so much of our daily lives, from how we communicate with one another to how we work and entertain ourselves. It’s the language of the future, and its importance will undoubtedly increase as time goes on.
Due to the increased relevancy of computer programming in our daily lives, many schools have started to incorporate coding lessons into their regular curriculum-even as early as elementary school. Whether you’re a teacher in one of these schools, or you're an educator that oversees classroom curriculum plans and development, you know how important it is to make the coursework digestible, relatable, and of course, fun for every student.
To that end, this article will cover four tips and tricks for how to teach coding and how educators can give students a head-start in the computer science and programming world.
Tips and Tricks for Teaching Coding
When teaching students to code, the most important thing to show your students is that coding is not as intimidating as it looks. Coding has earned the reputation of being difficult to learn—it stands among the ranks of math and science. This means that some students will have preconceived notions about the material and their own ability to learn it.
Remind them that coding is something anyone can master with enough time and dedicated effort. Then, utilize these tips to craft your course material to reflect that.
#1 Start With the Basics: What is Coding?
One of the most significant barriers to entry for some students is that they don’t understand exactly how coding works and how it correlates to what’s happening on their screens. To set your students up for success, it’s important to translate the fundamentals of coding into terms they can understand. That way, they can grasp programming at a high-level, before diving into the nitty-gritty.
To do this, explain coding in terms of things they already understand, like:
- Coding as a language
- Coding as a brain
- Coding as a set of dominoes
Teacher Tip: This is especially helpful for little learners who will quickly lose sight of the big picture of a coding concept without a simple way to grasp it.
Coding as a Language
Similar to how people study French to communicate with French-speakers, people study coding to communicate with their computer, phone, or machine. However, when you communicate with electronics, the programming language you use is called binary—which is made up of 1s and 0s.
Binary is challenging to read and learn. After all, if you wanted to say “I love teaching computer coding” in binary, you’d get a string of unintelligible 1s and 0s:
“01001001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01110100 01100101 01100001 01100011 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01110000 01110101 01110100 01100101 01110010 00100000 01100011 01101111 01100100 01101001 01101110 01100111”
Programmers differentiate these languages into high-level languages and low-level languages. High-level languages have syntax that is easier to read for people, whereas low-level languages use more machine-friendly syntax.
Coding as a Brain
Another way of thinking about code is that it functions as the brain of the computer. Your brain is what allows the rest of your body to function, giving out the orders for you to do things like breathe, walk, jump, dance, or speak.
Code works in much the same way by giving your computer a set of commands to follow.
Each line of code sets out a new coding instruction for your computer to complete, explaining step-by-step what needs to be done. The result of this series of instructions is what allows your computer to do things like get an object to move across the computer screen or make certain text appear.
One major difference between our brains and computers? Machines are hyper-literal.
This can be understood through a thought-experiment known as the Peanut Butter Sandwich Emulator. To help your class understand how coding works and to spark some joy in the process, consider starting off a lesson with a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a plastic knife. Then:
- Have your students pair up in groups and instruct them to build a list of instructions for making a peanut butter sandwich.
- Make sure each item on the list has only one action, for example, “dip knife into peanut butter jar”—then—“swirl knife in circular motions”—then—”remove knife from peanut butter jar.”
- Then have groups try to create a peanut butter sandwich by reading their instructions to you.
Your job as the computer is to take every instruction literally. While this may seem like a simple task, your students will discover that without a detailed step-by-step set of instructions, things will get a little… messy.
Teacher Tip: If you bring this experiment to your classroom, make sure you bring extra paper towels!
Coding as Dominos
One common frustration that newcomers face is how one mistake in the code could mess up an entire program.
How does a single missing parentheses keep my entire program from running?
A great way to explain what’s happening is with dominos. When you set up a line of dominos across a desk, each domino must be in the correct position to knock the next one over. If you remove even a single domino in that chain, or position it at the wrong angle such that it doesn’t properly hit the next domino, the domino chain comes to a halt.
The same is true with a computer program. One missing letter or parentheses is like removing a domino from the chain.
#2 Embrace (and Encourage) Mistakes
Coding is one subject where it pays to let people try things out on their own. After you teach your students a new concept with a particular learning style in the classroom, give them a chance to explore and come to you with questions when they feel like they need help. This way, students take charge of their education, and the information they gain through this trial-and-error learning style is more likely to stick.
In fact, a study in the Annual Review of Psychology found that kids who learn through their mistakes:
- Are more likely to remember the answer the next time
- Are better able to explain the concept they got wrong
- Have better long-term retention of the concept
One downside of this exploratory style is that some kids may feel frustrated or upset by repeated mistakes. That’s why it’s essential to create a supportive learning environment where mistakes are not only accepted, but encouraged.
Take steps to embrace trial-and-error learning by:
- Celebrating the little victories along the way
- Reminding students that making mistakes will help them grow
- Turning every correction into a learning opportunity
By creating a positive environment for your students to thrive, you can help them overcome many frustrations beginner coders face.
#3 Find Ways to Make Coding Fun
While coding requires memorization, logic skills, and attention to detail, it can also be a fun and creative endeavor.
By turning coding into an interactive experience, students will be motivated to keep working at coding when it gets difficult. It will make them feel like they are accomplishing something as they learn new things.
A great way to do this is by turning your coding lessons into games.
You already saw how the Peanut Butter Sandwich Emulator could spark a ton of smiles, and the options for coding games are endless. While programming on a computer is important, here are some screen-free ideas for introducing games into your coding lesson:
- Simon-9000 Says – There’s one twist to this Simon Says game, commands must be given in single-action instructions. Allow students to take turns being Simon-9000, and correct them if they say something like: “Simon says do jumping jacks.” (In this case, jumping jacks is too complex of a command and would instead need multiple commands to achieve).
- Solve a maze – Design a maze and have students write out the step-by-step instructions for how to solve it. Set traps throughout the maze and add puzzle sequences that involve different pieces of your coding curriculum.
- Coding board games – There are plenty of coding board games available that you can bring into your classroom that help teach the fundamentals of coding in a hands-on way. This is a great option if not every student has access to a computer.
Students who see coding as a fun and exciting game are more likely to stay engaged in their learning than if they just see it as another lesson.
#4 Find the Right Tools to Help
Teaching students how to code in and out of a classroom can be a great way to get kids motivated and excited by the world of coding, but there are some limitations.
Some challenges feel insurmountable without the help of additional software and programs, like identifying the single needle-in-a-haystack mistake in a block of code or setting up coding projects that are easy enough for a beginner to succeed at but exciting enough to keep them engaged.
That’s why Disney Codeillusion has created a comprehensive, educational program meant to make exploring coding easy and fun - not to mention seamless to incorporate into your classroom instruction whether in-person or remote.
What is Disney Codeillusion?
Disney Codeillusion is a comprehensive coding curriculum meant to help students engage with coding all within the magical world of a Disney-themed experience. Students start with the basics of coding while completing a series of mini-goals and lessons and then quickly ramp up to intermediate and advanced concepts across the program’s curriculum.
Disney Codeillusion for Schools features:
- 125 lessons that are approximately 30 minutes each
- 3 focus areas - Media Art, Web Design, Game Development
- Virtual mentors to ensure students enjoy a “no-stuck” experience
How Can Disney Codeillusion Help You Teach Coding?
The Disney Codeillusion program is a great educational tool that keeps students engaged and progressing in their coding lessons. The biggest differentiator for Disney Codeillusion is that the program not only blends entertainment with education to keep students motivated, but it was created with a self-propelled learning cycle in mind to keep students consistently progressing through the curriculum.
One of the most effective parts of this program is that it is built around the Self-Propelled Learning Cycle, a method that has been developed from over ten years of coding classes. The Self-Propelled Learning Cycle encourages long-term retention of coding knowledge, by referring to the four pillars:
- Forming Motivation – Since the Disney Codeillusion program is set up as a role playing experience, students enrolled in the program learn different coding concepts while engaging with some of their favorite Disney characters. This encourages them to keep working at the program even as it becomes progressively more challenging.
- Practical Learning – The courses encourage students to discover the theory behind coding and put it into practice. They’ll be able to see their code brought to life before their eyes as they complete lessons that teach them to do things like recreating flurries of snow from Frozen.
- Consistent Learning – The Disney Codeillusions program encourages students to keep from getting discouraged with step-by-step instructions to guide them along the way. There is also a progressive hint tool that gives students a chance to recall things independently, but prevents them from feeling frustrated or stuck.
If you’re looking for a way to bring coding to your classroom or simply liven up your existing coding lessons, try out our exclusive 14-day free trial of Disney Codeillusion today. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and our team will get you and your students set up in no time!
Forbes. Teach Kids How to Code and You Give Them a Skill For Life. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorrison/2013/12/27/teach-kids-how-to-code-and-you-give-them-a-skill-for-life/?sh=18a0a09365d2
Science Direct. Metaphors of code – Structuring and Broadening the discussion on teaching children to code. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871187116301055
Annual Reviews. Learning from Errors. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-psych-010416-044022
Coda Kid. A Beginners Guide to Teaching Kids Coding. https://codakid.com/a-beginners-guide-to-teaching-kids-coding-even-when-you-dont-know-how-to-code/