Coding Unplugged: Great Ways to Introduce Concepts

I found the best tool at a teacher supply store last summer – magnetic arrows!

I’m not sure what the maker had in mind for these, but they are absolutely PERFECT for practicing coding movements on the board!

One of the best and most comprehensive (and free) coding curriculum is from code.org. There are many excellent programs and apps available but I highly recommend this be a integral part of a coding program, especially for elementary ages. Besides the student activities, there are numerous resources available for teachers. One such resource is called “Happy Maps” where students tell Flurb (see below) which way to go to get the fruit.

Meet Flurb!

Last year, we used arrows to point the directions to move. The magnets I purchased have a turn arrow which is great for truly showing the sequence of steps necessary to reach the fruit.

After reviewing the vocabulary:

  • algorithm – a list of steps that you can follow to finish a task
  • program – an algorithm that has been coded into something that can be run by a machine

I ask how Flurb can get to the apple. With all the volunteers, we could spend the entire time moving arrows!

After one child has placed arrows and moved Flurb, I ask if there is another way to reach the apple. We spend a lot of time talking about being able to have several solutions to get to the same result. Of course, fixing and trying again (debugging) are extremely important parts of the computational thinking process.

 

After a few students have tried progressively harder puzzles, we move to the iPads and code.org. I encourage students to “walk out” the solution when they get stuck. We’ll hold the iPad together and walk in the directions they need to go. Some students (me included!) need that extra kinesthetic approach. I always love watching children do just that – they talk quietly as they walk the steps they should take:

one step forward > turn right > two steps forward

As we wrap up the lesson, I always ask, “Did anyone get stuck?” A few hands slowly go up, as if they are unsure that they want anyone to know. Then I tell the children, “You know what I noticed? When you got stuck, not one person complained and said they couldn’t do it; that it was too hard. You didn’t give up. You kept trying. That’s what coders do!”

And, isn’t that what we do everyday in life?!?

Rosie’s Runtime: A Homerun for 2nd Graders!

Last December, I came across Rosie’s Runtime, an unplugged coding activity created by Project Lead the Way. I was finally able to give it a try last week and, WOW! Was it a hit!? The students absolutely LOVED it!

In Rosie’s Runtime, a large grid is set up on the floor. The teacher starts out as the robotic dog who is trying to get from a fire hydrant back to the doghouse. To make it more of a challenge, there are mud puddle cards that must be avoided and there are bones that need to be collected.

There are two versions:

  • K-2nd Grades   Basic movements such as move forward, turn right/left, pick up bone are in this level’s commands.
  • 3rd – 5th Grades  More involved commands have been added to this level. In addition to the above, jump, repeat, and conditional commands are part of this more difficult level.

I worked with 2nd grade, using this as a refresher activity before students moved to code.org. Students were divided into 5 groups, each receiving a set of cards. For this level, the cards were move forward, turn right, turn left, pick up bone, and make a u-turn.

Correct or not, each time I, as Rosie the Robotic Dog, was given a command, I moved. They students were quick to make corrections! Of course, there were cheers when they guided me to the doghouse!

The students absolutely did NOT want to quit! Well, maybe I was a bit excited, too. We debriefed by discussing different routes the students could have had me travel and talking about how we had to debug a few times to get back on track.

We’ll definitely be doing this with other grades. And, I’m eager to try the harder level. I think this would be a good small group activity that students could do on their own once they’ve been introduced to it.

FYI:  I thought about using felt squares for the game board but was concerned those might stretch after being stepped on several times. I ended up buying a fabric (don’t remember what kind) that won’t fray (yea! no hemming). The fabric is the same type as what is often used in the recyclable grocery bags you can buy. I cut them into 12″ squares which turned out to be a perfect size!