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Pixel Programming

By Caitlin Davey 20 minutes
Grades 1-3
  • Programming
  • Technology and Society
  • Design
Tools & Languages

Key Coding Concepts

  • Algorithms
  • Debugging
  • Sequences



Finding problems or ‘bugs’ in code and solving them



A pixel is a teeny-tiny square of colour. The computer uses lots and lots of pixels together to display anything you see on a computer screen. Pixel stands for picture element.



Identifying a series of steps for a task. Computers and Scratch read and perform commands in order from top to bottom

Learners will use post-its to program pixel art. Then they will be able to write their very own pixel programs.


  1. Pair up learners
  2. Go through the instructions (below) and run through Program 1 as an example together. Begin by choosing which colour you will start with.
  3. Give one partner a program sheet and the other the solution
  4. Have the first partner try to follow a program by placing sticky notes on a table or wall (no peeking at the solution!)
  5. Have the other partner check the solution to see if it’s correct
  6. If it is incorrect, “debug” or try to solve it together
  7. Have partners switch roles!
  8. If time, have pairs create new pixel programs for each other - like pixelated emojis or emoticons!


  1. We are programming left→right, top→bottom (like reading!)
  2. Choose 2 different coloured sticky notes
  3. The number is the amount of sticky notes to place down in a row
  4. The comma means switch colours

Learning Outcomes

We followed simple, clear instructions to perform a task
We created and decoded algorithms
We made decisions like computers, using conditionals (IF there is a comma, then switch colours)
We worked with our partners to debug (or fix) our instructions

Assessment Tools

  • Have learners give thumbs up or down for each outcome
  • Have learners complete a self-reflection

Work Backwards: Have one partner use post-its to create pixel art, then have their partner write the code for their art. Share the instructions with another pair to see if they can replicate it.

Math Extensions:

  • Make it into a math game. Have learners count up from 1 and switch colours every time they count a multiple of 4 (e.g.), moving to a new row after every 10 post-its. This may result in some interesting-looking patterns.
  • Add a coordinate plane to the grid and have learners write their code using x and y coordinates along with the colour the block should be shaded.
  • Have learners calculate the area each colour takes up on the grid.
  • Have learners tally the colours they used and make a graph showing the frequency of each colour.

Language: Spell with pixels: Have learners try to spell out their names using the post-it notes, or create a pixel program for the class to solve that spells out a secret message. Use letters that can be created within the 3x3 grid.

History of Technology: Discuss how game developers in the 80’s created characters with limited colours and pixels to display on the computer screen. (Have printed examples of pixel video game characters such as Zelda and Mario).

  • Discuss how graphics have developed over the years in the video game industry.
  • Discuss what makes a graphic appealing to the player.

Art: Have learners select their favourite cartoon character and try to recreate that character by colouring a paper grid with pencil crayons. (Print Free Grid paper here).

Research: Have learners research the history of graphics in video games. (Teacher reference video)

Plugged In Coding:

Print Free Graph Paper

Pixel Pioneers: A Brief History of Graphics, Part One (Ahoy)

Make Art - Challenges

Brik Build

Teach lessons that are tied to your existing curriculum!


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    The K-12 Computer Science Framework

    Although learning how to build digital projects is a key part of Computer Science education, students should also learn a wider set of skills and competencies that will help them to harness the power of digital technologies as both creators and consumers. A comprehensive approach to K-12 Computer Science education includes learning about the following five focus areas:

    View Framework ➝


    By the end of high school, students should be able to create a simple computer program.

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    By the end of high school, students should understand and be able to use the tools and devices commonly used to build digital projects.


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    Technology and Society

    By the end of high school, students should be able to explore the ways in which technology and society have mutually shaped each other.


    By the end of high school, students should be able to apply design principles to the digital projects they create.