Introducing students as young as 5 to the concepts of computer science can be challenging but also immensely rewarding. Though blockly-based platforms like Scratch and Hopscotch can prove too tricky for them, there are a wide range of apps available that introduce youngsters to sequencing, algorithms and simple computational thinking. From Daisy the Dinosaur to Lightbot and The Foos (my favourite for use with Foundation Stage students) the choice is excellent and the touch screen interface helps to streamline the process for those getting their very first taste of coding.
Rather than start with an app though, I like to start with something more practical when first introducing computer science concepts in KS1. This could mean using floor robots to sequence a series of steps or perhaps something unplugged that takes a more kinaesthetic approach. This year I put a new lesson sequence together for my Year 1 students that incorporated some unplugged work and built towards unleashing them on Kodable.
There were a couple of major advantages to this approach. Students had a better understanding of the basic concept of algorithms which meant that they could be more successful with the challenges that the app presented. It also allowed me to identify different ability groups and then use the new Kodable curriculum feature to differentiate the tasks within the app for them More on that later though. Let's start at the beginning...
SESSION 1: Drawing Monsters - step by step by step
Having decided that I wanted to start unplugged, I looked at several concepts to use as a first lesson. One that I considered was this concept from Kodable where the students program a friend using a series of key commands. I decided that this would be a little too tough for the Year 1 students so early in the year. I wnated something that they could all access fairly independently and that I could use as formative assessment to inform differentiation across the following sessions.
This fun drawing activity allowed students to lead themselves to an initial understanding of what the word algorithm meant as they followed me through a series of steps to recreate my crazy creature drawings. After discussing the term abd eliciting a formal definition, they had a go for themselves and wrote out their own sets of steps using a simple variation on the core resource. This allowed me to get a clear idea of who had grasped the key concept of sequencing the steps (rather than trying to draw it all out in one go) and identify those that had identified the need to add precise details (in this case, adjectives) to ensure that the algorithm was followed accurately.
One last point about this lesson that bears mentioning. Knowing that I was building towards introducing them to Kodable, I threaded the Kodable characters through the lesson. They were on my introductory slides (see above) and on teh handouts used. I didn'y make a big deal of them being there at this stage - just sewing a little seed...
SESSION 2: The Maze Runners
This was without a doubt one of my favourite lessons of 2015.
I honestly can't remember where I heard the idea of using toilet paper (as opposed to masking tape) to make phyiscal mazes but it's a great idea. Cheap, easy to set up and also more visual. This practical session allowed the students to put their growing understanding of sequencing into practice. They worked in small teams of two or three to program each other around these floor puzzles. They also recorded the algorithms on whiteboards as they worked them out.
The preparation took some time. Having negotiated with the PE team to borrow a small studio as the space to hold the session, I also switched some classes around to enable me to teach my four Year 1 lessons back to back on the same day so that I wouldn't have to set everything up more than once. The mazes themselves were planned out in advance to provide six levels of challenge based on how many steps would be needed to complete them. They looked like this:
However I soon realised that this wouldn't work as a main form of differentiation as the kids would be working in groups and rotating round to ensure that the lesson was as active as possible - if I started the stronger students at level 6, where would they go next? As such I decided to add an additional aspect of challenge for the high ability groups - they would have to provide more complex algorithms that incoroprated the use of numbers to show the required number of steps. I provided the teams with simple handouts to explain their code system -
Note the use of the Kodable characters again - this time being used like traffic lights to show the learner levels! They also cropped up all over the actual room, from the start and finish sign to the maze labels to these special stickers that I made up too -
To say that this lesson was a success would be putting it mildly. Engagement levels were through the roof and the kids absolutely loved the practical nature of the task.
Now it was finally time to bring the technology into the mix...
SESSION 3: Kodable
Kodable is a free app full of fun mazes that you manouevre the colourful characters through. Its controls are simple for youngsters to pick up and the range of levels on offer is excellent (and even more can be purchased too which extend students into more advanced concepts like loops and functions!)
As I mentioned earlier, one of the great things about Kodable is that it features the ability to add classess and differentiated curriculum playlists. What this means is that you can quickly deploy the app without everyone having to start in the same place. VEry few game style apps offer anything like this and having collated my AfL data across the two unplugged sessions, I had a fair idea of the confidence levels of the students. As such I decided not to use class lists but streamed groups with shape names. I then used the playlists feature to assign different starting points to each. This meant that the more confident students got to start with something new and more challenging - conditional logic (cleverly and simoly harnessed in Kodable using coloured squares to pick directions.)
This session also went really well. Students tore through the levels and were eager to earn maximum stars by completing them precisely - especially once they realised that it earned them new characters to play with, the same characters they'd been seeing for the last few weeks in the unplugged sessions.
That's all for now folks. Feel free to shoot me an email or tweet if you have any questiosn about the project. You can also check out my Scratch Jr project for Year 2 that I developed last year by clicking here.