Programming Without a Computer

I’m finally introducing my third graders to programming.  We are studying systems thinking this year, and I feel like computer programming fits right into this.

One of my students follows instructions for navigating the obstacle course.
One of my students follows instructions for navigating the obstacle course.

This group has not been exposed to programming, yet.  So, I thought I would use a fun activity suggested by Kodable in its Learning Guide to get the ball rolling.

Kodable, for those of you who don’t know, is an iPad app specifically designed to teach kids how to code.  The first 30 levels are free (the Smeeborg portion, and then there are in-app purchases available.  The folks at Surfscore are making real efforts to include parents and educators in the learning process.  There are sections for the adults to access on the app, and it is very classroom friendly as it includes an option to add different players to the game.

Downloading the app also gives you access to learning guides with activities.  One of the activities does not even involve using the app.  A real-life obstacle course is set up, and the students use a sheet with supplied symbols to write directions for navigating the course “in code.”  They can add their own symbols to the page as well.

My classroom course included a requirement to crawl under one of our tables.  The results were hilarious.

The kids finished writing their “codes” in record time – quite confident that they had each designed the perfect directions.  I asked them to give their codes to a different student to read out loud one at a time while another student had to follow the instructions precisely. The original writers were not allowed to insert any explanations during the process.

The kids immediately saw, after one kid walked into the table with no instructions to get down to crawl under it, that their directions needed modification.  Back to the drawing board.

The second time around was better, but not by much.  There were still major flaws in their codes, resulting in kids rotating the wrong direction or crawling for half the course because the programmer forgot to include instructions to stand back up.

I think we probably could have done this activity all day.  The students were more than happy to keep refining their codes and testing them.  We finally reconvened, though, and discussed what they had learned.

  • The importance of clear communication
  • Interdependency
  • Problem solving
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • There is more than one way to achieve a result, but not all ways are the most efficient.

Since I see each grade level once a week, we will not get a chance to dig into the app itself until next Tuesday.  I am eager to see how the students transfer their physical experience to the digital one!

For more resources for Programming for Kids, visit my Pinterest Board, or this awesome Symbaloo from Shannon Miller.

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