Students in grades as early as kindergarten are learning about computer coding

Overbrook School fifth-graders work with maps and drawings to learn the foundations of coding.

Overbrook School fifth-graders work with maps and drawings to learn the foundations of coding.

Though it may look like they are playing with board games and electronic TinkerToys, Overbrook students as young as kindergarten are actually learning the foundations upon which they can eventually learn computer coding.

Overbrook computer instructor Meghan Guilfoil began lessons this quarter using Tynker, OZObot and Kodu to help teach coding. The lessons are hands-on activities that lead students into the world of programming and computer coding as well as develop problem solving and collaboration skills while fostering creativity and higher-level thinking.

“These lessons help students learn the importance of following instructions in detail and thinking creatively to find solutions when their creations reach a snag,” Ms. Guilfoil said. “Similarly, working together promotes ideas and sharing for the most effective solutions.”

“To help the students understand the detailed nature of coding, they begin by working in small groups to create a set of instructions to get from point A to point B,” Ms. Guilfoil said. “The pairs then trade instructions and try to follow the instructions step by step.”

Students are asked to take note of what in the instructions worked, what didn’t work and what needed more clarity.

“Then we discuss code as a language, like Spanish or French, which technology uses to follow commands. And just like their instructions, the computer code needs to be very specific because it will do EXACTLY what you tell it to do.”

Students in kindergarten through third grade are using an online program and curriculum called Tynker while fourth and fifth-graders are using Microsoft Kodu game lab curriculum. Grades 3-5 have also created team maps for OZObot which will be shared with all grade levels during “Makerspace May” in the library.
“Ozobots read drawn code,” which looks like bold lines on a page, Ms. Guilfoil said. “The black line determines the Ozobot’s path and the color code combinations give it specific instructions such as ‘U-turn’ or ‘turbo speed.’”

The lessons bring coding to life for Overbrook students in a world where they can immediately see if they were successful in communicating instructions for a task to be completed. The students get immediate feedback and can make the changes needed to proceed, promoting incredible student engagement and the enjoyment of creating a game.

One of the fastest growing professional fields today is coding and app creation. Ms. Guilfoil said in less than a decade, billions of dollars of revenue and millions of programmers have been employed, in a market that did not exist prior to 2008. So as she enhances the school’s computer curriculum, she knows that coding needs to be a part of what students are beginning to learn in elementary and middle school.

“Our students are so comfortable with technology and, especially, electronic games,” Overbrook Principal Sister Julia Marie, O.P. said. “This coding curriculum takes that knowledge they already have from their extra-curricular time with technology and applies it to academic lessons in a unique way.”