When teaching little learners, it’s important to start with first principles. In this way, you can build a strong foundation for knowledge (and subsequent mastery) to grow naturally.
In mathematics, kids have to learn the number line and counting before they can start to piece together the fundamental operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. In language, kids learn letters and their sounds, then words, then sentences—each piece building upon the next.
How does this type of learning translate to coding? And for teachers, what fundamental programming concepts need to be taught before kids can start building games, programming robots to walk, and maybe one day far in the future, programming AI to communicate like a human?
Let’s talk about kids coding class curriculums and how to conceptualize the proper way to teach coding successfully.
Crafting a Coding Curriculum: Start with Three Principles and a Question
To begin building a curriculum, you need to understand the three principles of a successful kids coding class, and answer one fundamental question.
- Principle 1: Make the lesson entertaining
- Principle 2: Offer proper guidance
- Principle 3: Provide a challenge
By blending these three elements, you’ll find your students are engaged in the material and motivated to learn more about coding. As for the question to answer...
- To use a computer or not to use a computer?
This is the Shakespearian version of teaching programming to kids. Before we delve into each of the three principles listed above, let’s first discuss classroom capabilities and whether or not to use a computer.
Coding With a Computer vs. Coding Without a Computer
Programming is inherently a digital skill. This means that coding classes need computers, right?
Well, not exactly.
Thanks to modern teaching methods and tools, experienced educators (such as yourself) have discovered methods of teaching coding without relying on 1s and 0s. There are coding board games, worksheets, and other interactive lessons that inspire creativity in children and break down computational thinking.
Here’s a classroom favorite:
- The Peanut Butter & Jelly Game – Computers are quite literal. If you were to tell a robot to take off the top of a peanut butter jar, it would try to just pull it off (instead of twisting it off). If you told the robot to twist the peanut butter jar top, it would twist the top, but the whole peanut butter jar would twist because you also need to tell the robot to hold the bottom.
Starting to see where the game comes in? Create teams of 3-5 students and have the students take turns “being the computer.” Whoever is the computer will have to take every instruction from their team literally in the process of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Once your team has a successful set of instructions (or code), they can present it to the class. However, this time, they have to say their instructions to the teacher (you!), and you take instructions extra literally. Watch as laughter ensues and computational thinking becomes a reality.
Note: Peanut allergies are a real thing. You can turn this game into a s'mores-making game, a lettuce and tomato sandwich game, or even a bowl-of-cereal-making game — the possibilities for what yummy snack to “code” are endless.
See how much fun and engaging coding can be? As a teacher, you try to bring those elements of excitement and curiosity into every class session. And to build a curriculum around this, you just need to remember the three principles of coding education: Entertainment, Guidance, and Challenges.
Principle 1: Make it Fun; Make it Entertaining
This one is straightforward—whether you’re teaching younger kids or older kids; if they aren’t having fun or enjoying themselves, learning becomes a chore. But by including games, interactive material, and ways to engage with coding, learning coding skills becomes an adventure.
Neuroscience backs this claim up. Judy Willis in The Neuroscience of Joyful Education writes:
“When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition. Brain-imaging studies support this relationship.”
What’s an easy way to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment? Having fun, of course.
Principle 2: Guiding Your Students with Hints at the Ready, (Not Answers)
In many respects, coding is a lot like math. Math utilizes logic and rules, as well as its own language (+, -, x, ÷) to express certain patterns about our world. Coding is similar. Much like the peanut butter game described above, coding requires a “literal” approach to programming logic, it has its own ruleset, and programming has many different languages to learn.
When it comes to kids and coding, like with math, some kids will take to coding like peanut butter does jelly, and some will find coding to be more like peanut butter and fish… it just doesn’t feel right!
With little learners who struggle to understand computational thinking, you’ll need to properly guide them through each lesson. This becomes difficult.
What’s the proper amount of guidance in a kids coding class curriculum?
Of course, you never want to give a student the answer when they get stuck. But how do you avoid a student becoming frustrated, giving up, or not understanding a certain coding concept? Here are a few different strategies to try:
- Break the project into micro-steps and think of analogies for each step. It helps when students can look at a problem from a different angle. For example, in math, that might mean explaining addition in “football points” or the number of cookies they get to eat. Try to come up with analogies for each step of the coding problem—that way, you’ll be ready to help any student.
- Build hints and “checkpoints” into the coding game or lesson beforehand. When kids are learning computer programming, you don’t want the whole class day to be spent building one product. Instead, you want to have checkpoints along the way where they can feel mini-successes alongside the big accomplishment of finishing the whole project. Not only will this boost confidence, but it will provide opportunities to input hints to nudge your learners in the right direction.
- Peer-to-peer helpers. This strategy is crucial if you work with a large classroom of kids. By coming to class with three different projects (Project A, Project B, Project C), each taking one-third of the class time, you can encourage students to help one another. If one student, Hannah, has already completed Project C, she can then help another student, Marcus, who is working on it. By the same token, if Marcus has already completed Project A, then he can help Hannah when she gets stuck.
Principle 3: Make it Challenging, but Not Too Challenging—The Delicate Balance
How do you teach a child who is just learning multiplication how to multiply 314 x 715? The key is to start off small, with the basics. The child first has to learn how to multiply single digits together (3 x 7) before they can learn how to multiply double digits together (31 x 71), and so on.
The same holds true for coding. When you’re building your coding course curriculum, the hard part isn’t knowing what kids should be able to do by the end of the semester; the difficulty is in building the requisite steps for them to get there.
That’s exactly where you should start.
Try to come up with the easiest problem or challenge you can think of when it comes to coding. Then, think of a coding challenge you would like your students to be able to solve by the end. From there, you can build challenges, games, and workshops to teach the micro-skills necessary to go from the easiest to the hardest problem.
By doing this, you’ll incrementally increase the difficulty of each session, and you won’t have to worry about making something too challenging.
Building Your Own Curriculum
So far, we’ve discussed:
- Games you can do with and without a computer
- Why you need to make coding entertaining
- How to guide students on their computer programming journey
- How to create a coding challenge that’s not too challenging
All of these blend together whether you’re building a year-long coding curriculum, a 1-month coding course, or even a 1-week coding bootcamp for kids. The key is to take each lesson and apply the three educational principles:
- Is there a way to make this lesson more fun and engaging?
- Where will students most likely get stuck, and how can I help them push forward?
- What is the easiest version of this lesson, and what’s the hardest?
From there, you can start to build your own coding class curriculum.
Sprinkle in a Little Magic with Disney Codeillusion
What if you could teach your students how to code with the help of Mickey, Cinderella, Elsa, and other favorite Disney friends? That’s the magic of Disney Codeillusion.
Disney Codeillusion is the perfect coding learning tool to pair with your lesson plan. It has 125 comprehensive coding lessons, a complimentary magic book for milestones and achievements, and the lessons are created with a “no-stuck” philosophy (meaning that Disney friends are always ready to provide a perfect helpful hint).
With Disney Codeillusion, students will learn four different languages:
They will then use these coding skills to create their own websites, design media art, and build games. Enchant your students with the magic of Disney by trying Disney Codeillusion’s free trial.
Psychology Today. The Neuroscience of Joyful Education. https://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/4141/the-neuroscience-joyful-education-judy-willis-md.pdf