Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Learning to Program with Kodable

Of the six strands in a Technology Skills Curriculum (Online Safety/Digital Citizenship; Programming; Digital Storytelling; Office Tools; Research; Basic Technology Concepts and Operations), the strand of Programming can easily be the most difficult to teach - especially to younger children.  When people learn that my profession involves working with computers, they automatically assume that I have a background in programming.  To their dismay, programming would be the last field that I would choose as a focus.  I once took a computer science course in college and most of the focus was on programming.  Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the course as I found the specifics of programming and coding to be so abstract that I just could not relate to it.

It's so important that when teaching students skills such as computer programming, that it's done in a concrete manner.  They need to learn the content and skills in a way that is engaging as well as relevant to their own lives.  As much as we think that the technology skills are important to learn, we need to remember that the technology is a tool and it's all about the education and skills that students will gain from learning the those skills.

Towards the end of the school year, the first grade students at my school were fortunate to have a visit from Neal Rooney and Gretchen Huebner, the developers of the educational curriculum Kodable.  Kodable is an award winning game that is designed to teach the basics of computer coding to children ages five and up.  Kodable is available in both the iTunes App Store for iOS devices and the Google Play Store for Android devices.  It works on any web enabled device.

In addition, Kodable is aligned to the Common Core and has an accompanying curriculum through which students learn the fundamentals of every modern programming language in a fun and inviting way.  This includes but is not limited to the following skills and concepts:
  • Sequence/ Order of operations
  • Algorithmic operations
  • Conditional logic statements
  • Problem solving skills 
  • Higher level thinking skills 
  • Collaboration skills
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Common Core Standards
  • CSTA Standards
  • English Computing Targets and Programs of Study
As mentioned above, many of the skills above are more abstract rather than concrete.  Second, some of the skills cannot be taught; rather they must be modeled or learned through experiences that are provided to the children.

With that in mind, Neal and Gretchen first provided the children with activities to help them understand the background of computer programming.  They taught them that computer programmers use combining languages to program computers.  The language of code is made of numbers and is known as Binary Coding.  Although the children were familiar with the word "program," they did not understand what the word meant.  In order to make the learning concrete, engaging, and relevant to the children's lives, the developers selected one of the students to act as a robot which the students in the class would program without the use of technology.  Programming the "robot" was easier said than done.  Not only did the students have to be well versed in their directions, but they also had to apply their knowledge when they programmed the "robot" to move in different directions and angles not necessarily at the same direction where the students were facing.

After the class participated in this activity, it was time for them to apply these skills by doing some programming on their own using the Kodable game.  The objective is for the students to program the furry alien Fuzz to reach the end of each maze.   Aside from being child friendly, the game is engaging, attractive, and very easy to follow.  This is great way to teach students how to follow directions as it must be completed within a specific sequence.  Those students who have difficulty with following directions will have a bit more difficulty with the game.  This is a perfect way to teach them how to read the step by step directions and take their time in order that they will be able to succeed at the game.

We were so fortunate to have the Kodable app developers visit our school.  The students were able to connect with them and learn more about computer programming and why it is important to learn how to do it.  The students love using the Kodable game and I look forward to using it with more students at my school next year.  Grechen and Neal, thanks for visiting us.  You definitely impressed our students and instilled a love of computer science within them!