A lot of educators hear the word “coding” and instantly begin to worry about the complex system of symbols and computer-based terminology they’ll have to learn.
However, it’s actually really simple to teach coding without having to master the subject yourself.
In a bid to encourage more children to code, Code.org invented the Hour of Code. A website dedicated to helping people understand the basic principles of coding in a very child-friendly way.
Each of the following courses operates in the same manner. Children will start at Level 1 and be given a simple instruction such as “make Elsa turn 90 Degrees” and then given advice on how to complete the task. If children make a mistake, they’ll be given advice on how to correct that mistake by the website so they can learn how to improve without a lot of teacher input.
Children will be tasked with moving their character, changing direction, use the “repeat” function, using the “if” function, understanding “collision detection” and altering the appearance and background of a game. Whilst this sounds like a lot to learn, the website breaks each function down into easy-to-understand, manageable steps.
At the end of each course, children can use their newfound coding skills to customize their own game or control their character any way they want.
A good idea for an extension activity is to tell the children to go back to each level and try to complete the level using the allocated amount of code. On each level, the children will be given a number, which represents the smallest amount of code required to complete the level. Only using this amount of code can be extremely challenging for the children but it is an excellent way to extend their learning and truly hone their coding skills.
Arguably more challenging than coding with Frozen, children will be asked to use the aforementioned coding skills but will also have to attempt to avoid objects whilst doing so. This course is extremely appealing to the children as they code a variety of Angry Birds characters around different levels – having to avoid items such as TnT as they do so.
Whilst it doesn’t sound too complicated, the addition of avoidable objects makes the game much more challenging for the children and I personally recommend they practice with the Frozen-based course first in order to become used to the basic principles of coding.
This is always the most popular choice with the children in my school. Based on the movie Frozen, children will code Elsa and Anna to create different patterns on an ice rink. There are 20 levels for the children to work through and children will be tasked with considering – not only the direction and distance – but the correct degrees required to draw certain patterns.
It’s a challenging course as the children will be asked to consider how many degrees their character should move when completing the different snowflakes. However, I feel this is a useful exercise for them to complete, especially as more complex software, such as Scratch, will expect them to edit degrees without instructions.
This course essentially lets the children create their own version of the popular mobile game Flappy Bird. Children start off by making the bird flap up and down, then gradually add more features such as the moving screen, points system and collision detection. It’s incredibly easy to follow as each of the 10 levels breaks down the coding into very simple instructions that the children can drag-and-drop into place.
As with the other two courses, children can use the last level to customize their own game using the skills they’ve learned throughout the course. However, the Flappy Bird course also allows them to alter their character and background so they can create a game somewhat unique to them.
Children can also develop their programming skills by completing activities centered around the incredibly popular computer game Minecraft.
The activities are challenging for the children as it encourages them to code their character to complete multiple actions within an individual level. Initially, they’ll be asked to move their character in specific directions and complete certain tasks (chopping down trees, laying paths etc) and this will incorporate the “repeat” function and the “if” function.
However, the activities eventually become more challenging and children will be asked to complete activities such as mining walls, laying paths and lighting torches. Whilst it may seem simple enough, children must learn to code their character to perform each action in a specific order to progress onto the next level.
A great feature about coding with Minecraft is the option (on certain levels) to select a difficult setting for the activity. This can help with differentiation and ensure all children can access the learning.
Coding with Star Wars has been extremely popular with the children I teach. As they progress through the activities, they’ll be able to control popular characters such as BB-8, R2D2 and Luke Skywalker.
This always helps them remain enthusiastic about their learning!
I find coding with Star Wars to be a good introductory course for children because the early levels are relatively straight forward. Rather than having to make their character face a certain direction before moving, children just program BB-8 to move either up, down, left or right – which makes it easier for them to understand the principles of coding.
As the activities progress, they become more challenging as children are tasked with avoiding certain characters (helping them understand collision detection) and are asked to set their own rules i.e. when touching X make Y appear.
Hour of Code is extremely engaging and the children in my school often enjoy completing the activities in their free time as well as in the lesson.
Having become used to the idea of coding, a lot of children now simply jump straight to the final level of the course and simply use their skills to code their own game. I’ve used it with children from Year 2 to Year 6 with great success and I feel it’s a great way to introduce coding to children of any age.