Tag Archives: coding

Education Work

How to stop the gender gap in tech and coding

There’s a problem in our education systems, leading to a problem in our tech industry – the continued perception that coding is for boys…

When I was younger I wanted to be a games designer. But I didn’t know anything about engineering or coding and for some reason they seemed like impossible subjects, designed for people with completely different brains to mine. I started to think this career path wasn’t for me at all. I’d never heard of any female games designers or engineers and it felt unlikely that it would ever be possible for someone like me to build games.

Despite the introduction of the new UK computing curriculum and the rise in after-school coding clubs, such as CoderDojo and Code Club most girls’ perception of coding and engineering appears to have stayed the same.

This issue is serious and hasn’t been ignored. A multitude of campaigns have been launched, such as Google’s Made With Code program and the European Ada Awards, and more advice is being provided on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) focused careers to encourage more girls to code. However, the fact that only 14% of the STEM workforce in the UK is made up of women suggests that these measures aren’t having much of an impact.

Why, in the 21st Century, are interesting, fascinating subjects such as these not appealing to female students? Only a quarter of girls aged 8-12 say they know anything about engineering, and those that do say it’s ‘too difficult’ and ‘more for boys’* – evidence to suggest that there is social stigma attached.

As a society, we seem to be investing far more time and money trying to achieve gender equality for adults when we should be addressing the root of the problem and understanding why there’s a gender equality gap to begin with. Are imposed gender stereotypes from a young age the problem?

Although obvious adult gender biases are seen as outrageous in our society (see the very funny responses to the ‘Bic’ pens for women campaign), the gender biases children experience on a daily basis are considered to be harmless and acceptable.

Why is this? As adults we are sensitive to sexism yet the majority of us don’t see a problem in allowing young children to grow up believing that boys and girls are very different.

Do separate toys and games, and comments such as ‘boys will be boys and girls will be girls’ really make sense in a world where we’re striving to achieve gender equality?

To eradicate sexism and close the gender equality gap we need to do more than invest millions of pounds in ways to make life more fair and equal for adults. We need to try and eliminate centuries of cultural conditioning which has made the vast majority of adults and children alike believe that men and women are essentially a different species with completely different interests, rather than people with very similar needs.

See also: The Game That Saves Kittens and Teaches Coding

I believe we don’t recall being treated differently at a young age – let alone consider it damaging – because for the most part, boys and girls are treated differently without even realising it. An example of this sort of conditioning is often seen when parents and teachers unnoticingly encourage girls to internalise their low expectations – by saying things like ‘don’t do that, you’ll get your dress dirty’ and ‘nevermind, you’re better at other subjects’. Girls are brought up to play it safe, whilst boys are often told to ‘try harder’. This conditioning is also present in children’s toys, books, TV shows, games, and the advertising that surrounds us too. Sadly, it makes more sense financially to market cooking sets and princesses to girls, and superheroes and cars to boys.

All you need to do is type ‘Girls’ Toys’ and ‘Boys’ Toys’ into Google and look at the images in the results, to see how apparent and perhaps disturbing this is. You will immediately notice a sea of pink for the girls – cooking sets, dolls houses, makeup kits and barbies. Replace ‘Toys’ with ‘Games’ and the imbalance is even more obvious. Free online games for young girls include ‘Barbie’s Fashion Dream Store’, ‘Miraculous Hero Kiss’ and ‘My Pretty Pedicure’.

See also: The Answer To The Skills Crisis May be More Obvious Than You Think

What can we do to try and solve this problem? Toys that challenge and encourage children without pandering to gender biases is one way. Some great examples of this can be seen with games such as Technology Will Save Us and GoldieBlox.

My team and I have created ‘Erase All Kittens’ (E.A.K.) – a web-based, Mario-style platform game designed to inspire both girls and boys to learn practical coding skills, whilst leveraging their creativity and critical thinking skills at the same time.

In E.A.K., children from the age of eight can edit real code that governs the game’s environment, enabling them to build and fix levels as they play, using the languages HTML and CSS. Our aim is to eliminate the fear that many girls initially have of coding, and empower them with practical skills through a highly gamified and story driven approach. Parents can also spend time playing alongside their children, also providing them with an opportunity to learn.

Interestingly, it’s been found that girls’ grades in science and maths correlate directly with the level of anxiety that they have about those subjects. I believe that gender biases in our society are influencing girls to want to look and be perfect – and perhaps as a result they are not as courageous or willing to try and fail in the same way that boys are. This leads to fewer girls taking an interest in STEM subjects which require those characteristics, in turn leading to less women pursuing careers in these fields.

Gender-biased products are always going to exist – but at least now there are more options. If we truly want girls and boys to grow up to have equal opportunities, it’s essential that we place more importance on treating and encouraging them in a similar way from a young age.

See also: Schools Need To Use Code To Empower, Not To Pigeonhole

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Education Work

Kickstarting kittens to teach coding

The team behind the coding game Erase All Kittens has launched a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter to raise funds for an expanded iPad version of the game that teaches children, especially girls, how to code.

Launched today, the aim is to support the creation of the first ever game that inspires girls to code and create. A game that makes code education meaningful — by allowing girls to apply practical skills in a creative way instead of just giving them instructions.

E.A.K are looking to raise £15,000 to fund a project with award-winning game developers Playerthree to develop E.A.K. for the iPad, building game levels to teach HTML, CSS and Javascript, so that the target audience of girls aged 8-13 can learn to design their own simple websites.

The Kickstarter project has a range of pledge levels from simple access to the iPad version of the game, through to donating licences for schools or organisations, to a corporate sponsor level donation.

E.A.K. ‘Chief Scribbler’ Dee Saigal said: ‘There’s plenty of research tells us that girls find coding boring and aimed too much at boys and we want to redress that balance. We’re making an extended version of our game that we already know that girls love and we want to bring it to as many as possible. If we can get the right level of support, we can really tackle the gender imbalance in tech at the very earliest stages.’

The game that saves kittens and teaches coding

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Education

A delightful way to teach kids about computers and coding

Computer code is the next universal language, and its syntax will be limited only by the imaginations of the next generation of programmers. The problem with that idea is that coding education is failing to fire imaginations on a big enough scale. You can even teach them about video production to see if they want to do that in their future. It can open up many new opportunities.
First of all you should begin by purchasing an adequate computer such as 8202-E4D and then start the learning process. Linda Liukas is helping to educate problem-solving kids, encouraging them to see computers not as mechanical, boring and complicated but as colorful, expressive machines meant to be tinkered with. In that way, she is teaching them that coding is not an end in itself, but it is a means by which people can express their creativity.
In this Ted talk, she invites us to imagine a world where the Ada Lovelaces of tomorrow grow up to be optimistic and brave about technology and use it to create a new world that is wonderful, whimsical and a tiny bit weird.

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Work

The Latin American girls in tech hacking into the ‘man’s world’

Staying up late into the night, Lilia Lobato Martinez watched endless YouTube videos to teach herself the computer code she used to help build her prize-winning Ool app for volunteers in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In her country, she is usually the only woman in tech competitions, which often hand out men’s T-shirts to the winners.

Now the 18-year-old electrical engineering student is using the $10,000 she won for her app in last year’s international girls-only Technovation competition to further develop Ool, which has so far linked over 1,000 volunteers with 20 non-profit groups in Mexico’s second-biggest city.

“A lot of people were constantly complaining everything’s wrong, but I found that no one was going out to the street to volunteer,” said Lobato. “So I decided to develop an app that’s a compendium of all the non-profit organisations, so we can learn what Mexico is building.”

With plans to eventually set up a centre to teach children to code, she said many of her female friends shied away from IT development because it was male-dominated. Only four out of 40 students on her degree course are women, she pointed out.

Across Latin America, the participation of girls and women in technology and science has lagged far behind men, experts say.

And while awareness of the need to correct the imbalance is growing, social and economic pressures mean many are still pushed into other areas or expected to start work straight after school rather than going into higher education.

“Boys think it’s easy for them and they expect to be smart in technology… it’s not expected for girls, and that’s reinforced by the education system quite often,” said Gloria Bonder, Buenos Aires-based UNESCO chair on women, science and technology in Latin America.

The portrayal of women in the media, and a lack of role models also contribute to making it a system-wide problem, added Bonder, who is working on a Central American pilot project to incorporate gender equality into science and technology education.

While 44 percent of all science research positions – including social sciences – in the region are held by women, they are under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), according to UNESCO.

For example, in Peru and Colombia, around a third of natural science researchers are women, but they account for just a quarter of engineering and technology researchers.

Now a number of projects are striving to improve access for girls and give them the skills and confidence to compete in those jobs.

DEVELOPERS’ BOOTCAMP

One of these is the Laboratoria coding academy in Lima, which spots talent “where no one else is looking”, said its chief executive, Mariana Costa Checa. More than 1,000 women applied for 70 places at its intensive bootcamp where candidates from low-income backgrounds train as front-end web developers.

The application process involves a series of rigorous tests, alongside interviews with candidates’ families to reduce the drop-out rate for the course, which also runs in Santiago, Mexico City and the Peruvian city of Arequipa, and helps participants land jobs with companies such as IBM.

Along with computer programmes like JavaScript, it teaches workplace skills that are crucial for women who have little experience of formal-sector employment, said Costa.

She expects some Laboratoria graduates will go on to develop technical solutions for problems in their communities.

“The first thing we look for is a job, because it gives them economic stability, and for our average student, it triples their income,” said Costa.

It also gives them “a new perspective in life”, she added. “It starts changing the way they look at the world – and I think there’s enormous value in then bringing that change to their own communities.”

With many girls from poor families under pressure to start earning as soon as they finish school, Rebeca Vargas, president of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, said most of those who signed up for the international STEM mentoring programme she helped set up in Mexico’s Puebla state did so without telling their parents.

Nearly all are now studying STEM subjects at college or university.

“Some of the girls we worked with last year had to sell bread and food on the street to be able to earn money to eat,” said Vargas, whose foundation developed the programme with Mexico’s public education secretariat and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Families often expect girls to pay their way at home but not to seek senior positions at corporations or well-paid jobs. “They’re supposed to work but they’re not supposed to be educated,” Vargas said.

Wendy Arellano Martinez, who won a scholarship to study biotechnology engineering at the prestigious Monterrey Technology Institute after the mentoring programme, is now part of a team developing a project to make spectacle frames from recycled plastic bottles for older people on low incomes.

“We’re going to be looking for funds from organisations or foundations to help us distribute our products to people who need them but don’t have the resources,” said the 18-year-old student from Puebla. “I want to give the same support that I received.”

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Education Work

Changing mindsets over learning coding

‘It’s boring’, he groaned, glancing sideways beseechingly. ’Do I have to do it. Why do I need to learn to code?’  Part of the year 6 gifted and talented class, this student punched keys, slammed the laptop shut, yanked it open again. His friend offered to help. Desolately he turned back to the coding lessons.

I continue cruising the classroom stepping over lanky legs harbouring slumped socks, dodging flailing arms. ‘It’s really easy – it’s like the games we play. I’m trying to trip it up,’ one boy tells me as I watch the psychedelic coloured spinning shape. It reminds me of a rapidly created multi-coloured elastic band ball. He’s chuckling with glee. I am amazed.

This was my first coding class as a supply teacher. Was I naive to expect the students to enjoy this lesson? It involved laptops – the one tool students struggle to resist. It involved games – the one topic guaranteed to engage all the class. Why are students here no longer motivated to master each level? Or survive a challenge? All of them had been part of the continual clatter to set up a class Minecraft server couched as an educational activity, pitched as a collaborative learning experience.  Minecraft is the end product – my son’s observation jolts. Coding is the syntax you use to express the creative logic needed to create that end product.

See also: How to integrate coding into the classroom

It is clear on one level this lesson is no different to any other lesson. I could work out where and how each student was learning on Bloom’s Taxonomy. My gleeful student was creating. But his peer was still trying to remember what he had to do.  What can I do to scaffold him? I cannot code. Not yet.

Technology is a tool we increasingly use. It can be applied to any field. There seems little doubt that these students should be exposed to even the basics of how technology is programmed. At a rudimentary level, such experience may help them understand their increasingly online lives.

Right now, some of this class are raiding the lesson sequence, most are working through methodically, a few have stalled after the initial levels or activities. At a raw level I want more of the glee than the dejection. I doubt it is as simple as changing the program – that would be like changing the textbook and blindly believing your students will subsequently not only understand but be able to apply that formula! Just because the lesson involves beloved tool laptop, we cannot assume the students will persevere and experience authentic learning.

‘I’m not doing it. My dad said I don’t need to learn. I can employ someone who can.’ I stare at him. Thunderstruck. This student was a cheerful, contributing class member who regularly exhibited a positive growth mindset across his subjects. Is this evidence of the ability to recognise when and what to delegate? Sure. That’s a life skill. But his outburst is inconsistent with his seemingly normal class attitude. Furthermore, what has happened to his problem solving strategies? The logical reasoning I have observed during his maths lessons, and his writing?

This school is in transition. There are lunchtime and after school clubs for the passionate and curious students. And those parked by working parents adamant their children need to learn how to code. But coding lessons are increasingly included at the class level too. Hence transition. Hence this lesson.

There are many coding programs schools access – Tynker, Scratch, Grok Learning, E.A.K to name a few. My limited experience thus far with these programs is that the students have to solve problems, develop reasoning skills. Such skill development coupled with cooperating with peers is part of most students’ journey through school. Exploring how to create the logic, then coding it combines lateral and algorithmic thinking. What beautiful synergy.  

I am a supply teacher. One of the fun parts is I move around a few schools.  I can plan a lesson for one class then reflect on what I have learnt to improve and change the lesson plan with a fair chance I can run the lesson again in another class or school within a few weeks. I don’t have to wait the 12 months of a classroom teacher. I merely grab an opportunity when the classroom teacher hasn’t had a chance to set a lesson, or says those rare words – do what you like!

.So what did I do with the coding? Today’s school doesn’t have a laptop per student in the classroom. We sing along with that old favourite Hokey Pokey. Why? Familiar to this year 4 class, and the song is a series of instructions. Perfect for small groups to write an algorithm. We decide our mindset is to create an algorithm for recently arrived dinosaur aliens. Yes it was challenging. Each group has to cooperate. How would they instruct each step? How best could I challenge their assumptions?

‘We can say repeat!’, one girl’s face lit up. ‘Oh – we’ve said turn 360 degrees for the turn around,’ another student chimed in. ‘But how do we say put your left hand in? The aliens may not have hands,’ He was frustrated.

‘We’re ready,’ two groups volunteer. Each group passes their carefully worded algorithms to the next group. Silence. Then a low hum fills the classroom as each group works through the instructions. Now the real test commences. Could they follow the algorithm? Could they resist drawing on prior knowledge; algorithms learnt as they mastered walking for movement?

I have this class again. We spend some of the morning working on changing our mindsets: exploring how they perceive their learning, then challenging and changing the words to be more friendly. To accept and work with ‘not yet’. The class construct a wall display. After lunch in small groups they create an algorithm to instruct a robot to move.

This time, the algorithms are more complex. More detailed. Far more creative. Most of these students are experiencing deeper learning on how to write an algorithm. They have visualised the problem, and are exploring spatial reasoning. They are breaking the instructions into segments, and creating patterns.

Again there is frustration, even fury at the challenge.  They swap algorithms. And we all watch each group be the robot. ‘That’s not what I meant; oh yes! ….I could follow your instructions; Yours were confusing. This is better than doing the Hokey Pokey… ’

But I’m still pondering about the other class. How can I scaffold particular students to get to the deeper learning of, and for, technology via coding programs?  Students take more control when they engage in higher order thinking and apply what they have learnt during coding. Less of the passive, more of the active interactive engagement with their use on end products.

See also: The difference between fixed and growth mindsets

What can I learn from this year 4 class? I hand out post-it notes, and ask them to write down how they felt now. Now they have tested their algorithm. ‘I felt very annoyed. Very annoyed; I felt like it was quite hard to program a robot but when you get the hang of it it gets easier; I felt like I was learning more and more each time I was reading the instruction to make me move.’

There are no short cuts. Was that what my year 6 student struggled with? School lessons build on prior knowledge. All the coding programs start at an introductory level.

You work through at your rate. But if you run from challenges, or tell yourself you cannot do something because it is too difficult then you don’t dream about where you can fly.      

I walk up to the mindset wall after school. These students were brutally honest with themselves and most had had the courage to share with their classmates.

‘I  can’t do this’ became ‘I can’t do this but maybe I can try another way’; ‘Sometimes I try’ became ‘If you all try it will get easier over time.’

I’m going to try changing mindsets on my next classes.

 

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Education Work

The game that saves kittens and teaches coding

It’s an increasing problem for parents trying to make sure their children have the skills they will need for a 21st Century economy. What skills will they need? Specifically, how will they learn the key language of the future, coding, and be prepared with the skills for life beyond school?

Erase all Kittens (E.A.K.) helps make it all clearer. The game helps children develop essential skills for the future, such as the ability to build websites and apps, by teaching them professional coding languages in a fun and simple way. The unique, web-based platform game has been designed for children aged eight to 14 and is proven to engage more girls – eliminating anxieties about coding and technology – by using a highly gamified and story-driven approach.

E.A.K. lets children edit the code that controls the game’s environment, which enables them to build and fix real levels as they play – on their own or alongside parents. It provides mums and dads with an opportunity to learn more about the subject of coding, which is now being taught in all schools across the UK.

Dee Saigal, CEO at Drumroll, the company which produces EAK, said: “Our goal with E.A.K. is to support parents in helping develop the skills that children are going to need in the future. Without them even realising it, the game helps to develop children’s creative and intellectual development, which are now essential for success in the workplace! It also helps inspire girls to code, which is a challenge for many parents and teachers, by letting them learn in a fun and simple way.

“We’re essentially bridging the gap between learning the concepts of coding and how to code in the same way that a developer does; children learn languages quickly and easily, so why not teach them the professional languages of technology? So far, we’ve made an hour’s gameplay which through word-of-mouth alone has over 60,000 players around the world, and half of those are girls.”

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Education Work

Coding schools aim to fulfil tech demand

As demand grows for computer programers in the technology job sector, accelerated programs to teach coding is a booming industry. But these largely unregulated schools are shrouded in controversy, with many questioning if an intensive course prepares people as effectively as obtaining a traditional degree in computer science.

Ben Gruber reports:

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Education Work

Schools need to use code to empower not pigeonhole

It’s a simple divide, embedded in the culture and materials of teaching and learning computer sciences and code: there are geeks and there are creatives, and the two simply do not mix.

That pigeonholing is not the overt intention of the revamp of the UK computing curriculum, updated in 2014 to give greater emphasis on how to teach children how to problem solve, and empower them to become creators of digital media rather than consumers. But ‘geek or freak’ is the outcome.

That’s not to say the newer curriculum isn’t progress, and it does create a skillset which are a better fit for the 21st Century workplace. But it doesn’t change perceptions – learning to code is still ‘difficult and dull’, and for those who are good at maths and science. Creative subjects, languages and the arts, are for a different kind of person altogether.

And that, of course, misunderstands code and coding completely – the truth is, there’s not much point in learning to code if you can’t think creatively. Coding is a language, or a tool, it’s not the end in itself, and the failure to make this clear in even offering the course (never mind in the teaching of it), is putting young students off.

All pupils struggle to see the relevance of their learning to their own perception of their later life (‘why do I need to know algebra?’), yet few subjects have the resonance for future work skills as coding, technology and computer skills – creating a maturity with tech that allows pupils to think, collaborate, and be lifelong learners. Ultimately, teaching coding with Personal Learning and Thinking Skills is what will give children a real advantage in our hyper competitive, increasingly digital world.

It’s also important to treat coding less like a subject and more like a literacy that spans the entire curriculum – much like reading and writing. Embedding the skills across the academic silos is a more creative and practical approach to code education that will engage more students, and prepare them for their future in our increasingly digital world.

Changing the culture of teaching digital skills takes time. Changing the tools can be much quicker.

Code and coding

Currently, most coding tools use Blockly – a visual based programming language made specifically for kids. It uses visual blocks that students drag and drop to write programs, which is a great way to introduce coding to young children. But it is limiting: there’s a huge difference between learning visual based programming languages, designed for newbies, and learning real, text based programming languages – which allow people to create on the web. With text based programming languages you have to remember what the instructions are called and be very precise in what you type, like where to put a semi-colon or remembering to include an exclamation point. Visual based programming isn’t like this at all – it’s extremely simple by comparison.

However, children learn languages quickly and easily when they are very young – so why not try introducing the real languages of technology in a way that would be challenging and engaging?

How could that work? Well, a friend of mine has one answer, so forgive the push. Erase All Kittens is a web-based platform game that teaches students aged 8-14 to code, whilst leveraging their creativity and critical thinking skills, allowing them to edit the source code that governs the game environment, enabling them to build and fix real levels as they play, using HTML and CSS. The tool aims to inspire and equip students to build their own simple creations on the web, and to give teachers the opportunity to become the facilitators of independent, autonomous learning.

See also: Why should kids learn to code?

Its one answer, and only one, to the dual problem of perceived relevance, which affects all, and the self-selection that comes with a course which has a severe problem with pigeon-holing. Computing as a subject has great potential to give children the understanding and confidence to think of changing the world around them, from their earliest years. But this means that programming has to be meaningful – which is impossible if too great a focus is put on learning the procedural building blocks.

Without a significant change in approach, we will never inspire children to become creators rather than consumers of technology.

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Education Work

Ten female role models in tech to follow on Twitter

The tech industry is male-dominated, wilfully ignoring the chance to build a skill-set in the other 50% of the population. And then complaining there’s a skill shortage.

But some people get around to begin changing things, to encourage women into tech and coding and to build the skills and the structures around them. So if you want to encourage girls – your pupils, your daughters – into tech and give them the skills of the 21st century, this is not a bad place to start:

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Education

Top STEAM tools for Online and Offline Learning: Part 1

A few months ago, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced a bold new initiative that aims to bring computer science to K-12 education and make computer programming a basic skill for all students.  The implications of this development can be staggering: STEAM will become much more widespread.  Soon, teachers around the country will teach students computational thinking, looping, conditional statements, and other high order programming concepts.

There are several tools and platforms teachers can use to accomplish this goal.  These tools range from web platforms, to robots, to manipulatives teachers can use to teach coding.  Some are more powerful than others, and offer different gains, expertise, and rewards, but they all have a place in the classroom. 

STEAM and WEB-BASED PLATFORMS

Code.org

Code.org is an excellent free tool for teachers and students who have not had prior experience or formal training in computer programming.  Code.org brings a lot to the table.  Teachers can find a comprehensive curriculum with detailed lesson plans, many of which have been written with the inexperienced computer science teacher in mind.  In addition to one of the most structured curriculums around, code.org also offers a robust internal LMS platform called Code Studio, where teachers can create student accounts, monitor student progress in real time, and assign differentiated lessons and activities.  Furthermore, Code.org offers free training workshops for teachers almost everywhere in the United States, as well as web-based self-paced trainings.

Code.org has been criticized for being, at times, repetitive, and for limiting creativity by offering only scenarios with pre-determined outcomes.  Although there are strong arguments on both sides of the fence, most people agree that code.org has earned a prominent place in the classroom, and has done an amazing job in demystifying coding with many of its pioneering features such as the “Unplugged Lessons” and the “Hour of Code”. 

Scratch

Several schools that have been teaching coding across the country have adopted the following trend:  teachers, following the gradual release of responsibility model, first use Code.org to introduce students to programming concepts, and then “graduate” them to a platform that offers more opportunities to unleash student creativity.  One such platform is Scratch.

Scratch, one of the first visual programming languages, and was created for the sole purpose of making computer coding approachable to younger audiences.  Scratch offers an open ended environment where teachers and students can create programs free of pre-determined outcomes, and unleash their creativity to create video games, interactive stories, and animations, among other things.  Scratch does come with a free classroom guide that helps get teachers and students become acclimated to the platform’s environment, and although the guide is not nearly as robust as Code.org’s curriculum, it does a superb job in helping students think computationally, and begin write complex programs.  Several schools around the world take advantage of Scratch’s powerful features and utilize the free web-based platform to teach programing concepts to children as young as 5 years old.

UNPLUGGED LESSONS & BOARD GAMES

Unplugged lessons are coding lessons that do not require the presences of a device.  It may come as a surprise, but there are several board games out there that teach early coding concepts.  These games fall under the “unplugged lessons” category.  This is a brilliant idea, as coding board games reduce screen time, increase social interaction and collaboration, while encouraging students to use simple and advanced programming concepts such as order of operation, looping, as well as the use of variables and conditional statements.  Coding board games are also fairly inexpensive solutions, which makes them attractive to schools with small budgets.

LittleCodr ($19.99)

LittleCodr is a very simple board game that teaches young children the basics of programming.  It comes with five types of different cards called Action Cards – step forward, step backward, turn left, turn right, and a wildcard – that students can use to crate a path. The box also includes a set of cards with pre-determined paths called Missions that the students are expected to recreate using the action cards.  The game teaches students to code by creating step-by-step instructions, and if necessary, use debugging to correct any mistakes they made in the process.

Robot Turtles ($19.99)

One of the most popular board games for little programmers, Robot Turtles is ideal for teaching the fundamentals of computer programming to children as young as 5 years old.  The game comes with a board and a variety of cards called Tiles – robot turtle tiles, jewel tiles, bug tiles, and obstacle tiles – along with four card decks, one for each player.  The objective of the game is to use the code cards from the deck, to get a robot turtle to its matching color on the board, while avoiding obstacles and the all-annoying bugs.  Robot Turtles is very entertaining, as the rules dictate that players tap their bug tiles and yell “bug!” and make “funny turtle noises” among other things.  The game comes with detailed instructions that explain the basic game mode, as well as a number of modes such as Unlockables and Write a Program modes.  Overall, Robot Turtles constitutes a highly entertaining way to bring coding to the early childhood classrooms.

CodingFarmers ($39.99)

Coding Farmers is an ingenious coding adaptation of the popular board game Chutes and Ladders.  The game consists of a board and two sets of cards called Action Cards and Code Cards.  Action Cards contain instructions in English and in Java code.  Code Cards contain instructions in Java only.  The objective of the game is to navigate your pawn/tractor to the barn/finish.  Every time a player rolls the dice, he/she tries to make the best decision to avoid obstacles by successfully decoding action cards with instructions and conditional statements.  During the basic game mode players can use the actions cards and read the statements in English, while studying the respective Java statements.  However, in the advanced mode players are expected to use the code cards only, which will force them to use their knowledge in Java.  CodingFarmers can be quite challenging, as players are expected to manage and interpret complex conditional statements.  For this reason, the game is recommended for upper elementary, middle school, and high school students.  Last week, Mathandcoding, the company behind CodingFarmers, released a brand new game on Kickstarter called Treasure Hunt, which is a board game aimed to teach coding concepts to younger audiences.

Code Monkey Island (19.99)

Code Monkey Island is another board game that aims to teach little kids the basics of computer programming.  It is made of a board, 12 monkey pawns, 54 Guide Cards, 16 Fruit Cards and 10 Boost in a Bottle Cards.  Each player selects three random cards and he/she navigates three monkeys simultaneously.  The objective of the game is to guide all three monkeys to the banana grove at the center of the board.  The game teaches conditional statements and challenges the students to think abstractly in order to choose which card best applies to which situation.  One of the unique features of the game is that, aside from the rules, the instruction guide contains definitions and examples of several programming concepts such as variables, conditional statements, true/false scenarios, loops, etc. 

Bits & Bytes (£17.95)

Bits & Bytes is another inventive board game that teaches students the fundamentals of computer coding without using a device.  The game is made of two types of cards; Grid Cards and Instructions Cards, along with four Program Cards that serve as pawns, and four Planet Cards that serve as the finish line.  The objective of the game is to move the program cards/pawns to the planet cards/home, while avoiding bugs and walls.  The instructions include a basic game mode, as well as advanced rules and challenges for well-versed players.

Osmo Coding ($49.99)

Literally hot off the press, Coding by Osmo is a new unplugged activity that became available to the public during the last week of May 2016.  Although it works in combination with an iPad app, Coding by Osmo can be classified as an unplugged activity due to the fact that it uses manipulatives to create hands-on coding experiences for young children.  Coding uses Osmo’s ingenious idea of using manupulatives that can be “read” by the iPad’s camera with the help of a mirror, in order to interact with a program.  In this case, students use the high quality manipulatives to guide a video game character. In so doing, students write code that includes character movement in four directions, looping, and computational thinking.

There are more tools coming! Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where we talk about more STEAM tools like robots, micro computers and micro controllers. To learn more about computer science in the classroom, check out Nik’s presentations at the Superior Tech for Teachers conference this month!

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