Updated: Feb 22
Are you looking for ways to introduce coding concepts to lower elementary students? We tested out various methods and arrived at a winner!
Start with Off-Screen Learning
We started with an introductory block-based coding language called ScratchJr. It is a free app available on the App Store or Google Play. In order to create code, kids snap together coding blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, sing, and come to life. Each coding block is meant to represent a line or lines of code, and the blocks are color-coded by function to help the children understand programming basics.
We started by recreating the ScratchJr. coding blocks using large foam sheets (ours were 15" x 19"). We purchased a bulk package for a great price at Amazing Savings discount store, but they are readily available at craft stores or on Amazon. We followed the ScratchJr. color coding and cut out our foam blocks. Then, we cut the block symbols out of foam and used a glue stick to apply it to our shapes. We added dry erase tape to shapes that had input boxes for numbers. Here is our start block:
As an alternative to the foam blocks, the Scratch Jr. website has printable blocks on letter paper that we recommend that you print, cut, and laminate. Try using white-out or white tape over the numbers or letters in the input fields so that once they are laminated, you can use dry erase markers on the blocks to add numbers or add words on the "Say" block. Blocks that work best in this activity are: Start on Green, Move Right, Move Left, Hop, Say, Pop, and End.
The default character (or sprite) and mascot for ScratchJr. is an adorable cat. We started our sessions by explaining to the kids that they were each going to take a turn being the ScratchJr. cat. We added some cat themed props to help the kids get into character (just print and cut the props and add a straw or craft stick). Finally, we were ready to code. We introduced three of our foam squares - start, move forward 1, and end.
One by one, the kids walked over the blocks and followed the coding instructions. When everyone was finished, the kids used the ScratchJr. app on their devices to recreate the same code. Then, we moved on to round two. We introduced a new block and made the code more complicated. The kids especially love the sound block "pop!"
We were amazed at how quickly the kids picked up the concept and easily translated that knowledge into creating the code. In no time at all, the kids were ready to move on to more intricate coding.
The ScratchJr. website is filled with free resources for educators that we used during follow-up programming. We love the printable coding block stickers! These provide a great way to transition from learning as a group using the big floor blocks to learning individually. The "Learn" tab of the website includes an interactive Interface Guide that is the perfect way to get acquainted with the overall capabilities of the app. The Paint Editor Guide will teach you how to create your own graphics or incorporate pictures using the device's camera. The Block Descriptions summarize how to use each block of code. Finally, the Tips & Hints section provides useful suggestions for more advanced functionality.
Once the kids had some time to reinforce their coding skills, we leveraged the ScratchJr. coding cards to challenge them to make some fun, new projects.
Benefits of Learning to Code in Early Elementary
Teaching Scratch Jr to lower elementary students (pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade) can offer several benefits, including:
Scratch Jr allows children to create and animate their own stories, games, and interactive projects. This encourages them to use their imagination and think creatively, as they can design their own characters and backgrounds.
Developing Problem-Solving Skills
Learning how to code in Scratch Jr requires children to break down problems into smaller steps and think logically to find solutions. This can help them develop problem-solving skills that can be useful in other areas of life. We love to start our programming sessions by explaining the steps they should take when they encounter a coding issue. We print these troubleshooting posters and encourage students to first try to solve the problem themselves.
Improving Math and Language Skills
Coding involves mathematical concepts such as sequencing and pattern recognition, as well as using language to express ideas and give instructions. Learning Scratch Jr can help children develop these skills in a fun and engaging way.
Enhancing Digital Literacy
In today's digital age, it is important for children to have a basic understanding of how computers and technology work. Scratch Jr provides an introduction to programming and computational thinking, which can be helpful in later years when they start learning more complex programming languages.
Scratch Jr allows children to work together on projects, which can help them learn how to collaborate and communicate effectively with others.