St Michael's Country Day School | Technology
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Technology

Computer Coding: It’s Not Just a Big Kids Game Anymore!

By: Jeff Day, Director of Technology

There are a lot of fads in the business of education. We’ve seen them all come and go. As an administrator, the hardest part of my job is weeding out the contenders from the pretenders. This duty has never been more prevalent than with computer programming in education.

Make no mistake about it, computer programming is not a fad. It’s been around for a long time, and it is here to stay. However, it is starting to gain the attention of many of the major players in our industry. Textbook companies, app developers, professional development planners, and even toy manufacturers are all aiming for their slice of the pie. It can be challenging to decipher what are the best tools for our children.

In Middle School, our students have ample exposure to quality computer programming options throughout the school year. They participate in code.org’s hour of code; they have lessons in the SCRATCH programming language; they learn HTML web site programming; and they work with Makey Makeys in our Maker Lab, a tool that allows their work with codes to come to life.

Coding languages, in fact, start at St. Michael’s as early as 1st grade where our students use QR readers with Mrs. Andrade. Students in second and third grades have SCRATCH JR. loaded onto their iPads. Mrs. Joubert and Mr. Tutino introduce SCRATCH to fourth graders as a part of their Africa unit. Many of our teachers have participated in coding workshops outside of school and have brought their excitement back to the classroom. There is no lack of coding in grades 1-8.

But what about our youngest students?

While researching gifts for my 4 year old, I came across the “Codeapillar” by Fisher Price. Obviously Fisher Price is a trusted name in toy manufacturing, and they have a positive track record when it comes to morphing a toy with educational value. The Codeapillar has a caterpillar’s head at the front, and each of the caterpillar’s “humps” is a command for the direction the caterpillar should travel. As a parent, I couldn’t have been prouder, when my son pushed aside his brand new dump truck on Christmas morning to make room for his new Codeapillar. He was instantly using the Codeapillar to navigate its way across our dining room, avoiding the table legs – or the obstacle course – as he kept calling it. He was hooked, and it was at that very moment my professional goal of getting the Early Childhood involved in coding was starting to hatch.

Earlier in the year, Mrs. Edwards had created an awesome “coding” lesson for her Early Childhood students during the hour of code week, reminding all of us that coding doesn’t have to be just on a screen. Using the rug in her library (which has a grid design on it), she built a challenge (i.e. “program”) for the students to get from one square to the next using paper arrows (i.e. “commands”) as their road map. Such a high tech idea with an age appropriate, low tech approach. At that point, I could see our smallest learners were thirsty for more.

This past week, I worked with our Kindergarten class. My goal was to introduce them to the Codeapillar. We started “low tech”. Ms. Boyle and I reintroduced the 5-6 year olds to the grid and arrows. We played a quick game of “find the snowman” where one student would stand in the home square, and the rest of the class would build a string of directions out of paper arrows to get to the snowman. It was cute to see their little brains figure it out, especially as a team!

We next moved from the rug, into the classroom. After a quick lesson, we built a set of directions for the Codeapillar to navigate to Mrs. Emmert’s shoe and give it a little kiss. The kids loved the challenge and worked together as a team to make it happen. It was very cool to watch. Often, teachers put these lesson plans together in their heads, and then just hope that their kids will gravitate to them. It was one of those days where it just all came together. So now, my son and the Kindergarten class are hooked on Codeapillars!

In the future, we plan on working with all of our Early Childhood classes using the Codeapillar. We will build increasingly complex “obstacle courses” and have our students work as a team to teach the Codeapillar to navigate their classrooms. In the most basic of terms, our Early Childhood students are “coding.” By the time they get to middle school who knows what they will be capable of!