Daisy the Dinosaur and Systems Thinking

I’ve been using this blog and Pinterest to promote the importance of teaching programming to students for awhile now. One of the benefits that I see is how coding makes natural connections to Systems Thinking.

Nested Systems Task Card

Some of my favorite FREE programming apps are:  Daisy the Dinosaur, Cargo-Bot, and Hopscotch.

While these are definitely fun apps, they can also help our students to learn some valuable life lessons.  I sat down this weekend to come up with some task cards that would help my students (K-5) relate Daisy the Dinosaur to some of the Systems Thinking tenets that we cover in class.  Depending on the level of the student, these can be done as a class, independently, at a station, or in groups.  I thought it might be fun to show them on the big screen, and use Socrative for some of their responses.

These are designed to be activities done after the students have had a chance to play Daisy the Dinosaur in “Challenge” mode, and some time to experiment with “Freeplay.” They do not have to have access to the iPad at the time they are doing the activities below, however.

Systems Thinking Tenet #1 – If you want different results, you can’t keep doing the same exact thing.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #2 – You can do things differently (sometimes more efficiently) and still get the same results. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #3 – When you have a problem, find the true source, or your “fix” could make things worse.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #4 – The objects within a system are interdependent. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #5 – There are often systems nested within systems. (PPT, PDF)

Hopscotch and Tynker

photo from Tynker.com
photo from Tynker.com

First of all, I have a confession to make; I know very little about programming.  What I do know is that it is wonderful for teaching problem solving skills and logic.  I also know that those skills, and programming specifically, are in high demand in our nation’s job market.

So it makes sense that we should find ways to introduce our children to programming early.  While they learn, so can we.  Hopscotch and Tynker both aim to do that.

Hopscotch is an iPod app that is free, and allows the player to create simple programs using methods similar to MIT’s Scratch (also free). I have mentioned two other apps – Daisy the Dinosaur and Cargobot – before on this blog, and I think Hopscotch fits perfectly between them.  Daisy is a fabulous introduction to young children.  Hopscotch would be the next logical stage.  And Cargobot has more complex challenges.  All of these apps are free.

Tynker is a web-based platform, and also looks similar to Scratch.  I have not tried it yet, but read about it here.  I just got my registration approved, and I am eager to try it.  I used Codeacademy earlier this year with my students, but I am looking for something a bit more kid-friendly, and Tynker looks promising.

According to this Forbes online article, Hadi Partovi of Code.org “cites estimates that 1.4 million programming jobs will be needed over the next decade while current projections are for only 400,000 graduates in the field.”

We can change this with the help of resources like Hopscotch and Tynker.

H/T to my co-worker, “D”, for forwarding me info about Hopscotch!

More Ideas for Programming for Kids


In the past, I have posted about some options for kids that are available to help them learn about programming:   Codecademy and the iOS apps Cargo-Bot and Daisy the Dinosaur.  I also briefly mentioned Gamestar Mechanic in one of my posts.  Many of my 5th graders have been using Gamestar Mechanic, which you can find here, during their Genius Hour time.  Another option would be programming robots, such as in the Lego Mindstorms program.

Since October, I have co-sponsored a “Code Academy” after school club, using the after-school program from Codecademy that I had read about earlier that year.  It has definitely had its ups and downs.  The Pros are:  it is a very in-depth program that teaches web design and Java, it keeps track of your progress, and it offers badges when you reach certain benchmarks.  The Cons are:  it is not compatible with Internet Explorer (which keeps becoming the default browser on our lab computers despite all of my attempts to change it to Chrome), it sometimes does not explain a lesson well, students must provide an e-mail to create an account, and some of the lessons are very wordy (we have 3rd-5th graders in the club, and some of it is a bit difficult for the 3rd graders to comprehend).

For today’s meeting, I gave the students the option of continuing with Codecademy, or to try a new site called Code Monster that I had learned about from Richard Byrne’s blog.  Once the students heard the word, “Monster”, I think they were sold.  By the end of our club meeting, nearly every student in the club had switched to Code Monster.

Here are the Pros of Code Monster: visually attractive to kids, minimal words to teach each lesson, no login or email necessary.  The Cons are:  no tracking of progress and it also seems to be incompatible with IE (at least the version on our computers).  The good news is that if you use the same computer each time you open Code Monster, you will return to the lesson where you stopped.  You can also click on the link for “Lesson Sections” at the bottom of the page to choose a new lesson.  I would emphasize to the students that they need to go in order, however, as the lessons build upon each other.

Code Monster seemed to work pretty well for our 3rd-5th graders.  Crunchzilla also has a site called Code Maven, which is for teens and adults.  I have not tried that one, yet.

I have embedded a TED video below, which is called “Let’s Teach Kids to Code.”  Mitch Resnick is the speaker, and he is one of the creators of Scratch, another great (and free) option for learning how to program.

Kids learn so much from programming: logic, problem-solving, and persistence.  It seems like there are more resources available every day – and you will find that the students are more than willing to try them.

Daisy the Dinosaur

Daisy the Dinosaur is an iPad app that teaches basic programming to young children.  It has a Challenge Mode, in which the user is given 5 challenges that increase in difficulty, beginning with programming the dinosaur to walk forward.  In Freeplay Mode, the user can experiment with several different commands, including making Daisy grow or shrink.

I think that this app is perfectly appropriate for students as young as Kindergarten.  They may need some help with the reading, but will enjoy solving the problems.  My daughter is 9, and I handed her this app with no instructions.  With no previous experience in programming, it took her a few minutes to understand her task in a couple of the challenges, but she quickly resolved them.  She loved the Freeplay Mode, and was very disappointed that there weren’t any more challenges after the 5th in Challenge Mode.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a good introduction to programming.  If you have a child that catches on to Daisy pretty quickly, you might want to also let them try Cargo-Bot, another free programming app.  I reviewed Cargo-Bot previously on this blog.  Cargo-bot is addictively fun, but is definitely aimed toward older children (probably at least 9 or 10).  Another way to hook children in that age range, although much more complex and expensive, is to get them involved in Robotics using the Lego Mindstorms kit.

All of the above activities are fabulous for working on problem-solving skills, logic, and perseverance.  Even if you have never learned programming, give Daisy the Dinosaur a try, and I have a feeling you will understand how easily it can engage our students.