4 steps to teach kids coding as an absolute beginner
Are you unsure about how to teach kids coding or where to begin? We understand the amount of preparation and stress it takes to prepare a computer science lesson!
With curriculums across Canada modernizing to include more computer science (most recently in Ontario and Alberta), teachers are looking to connect and find professional development resources that are easy to access and affordable. So when they hit the classrooms come September, lesson plans are in hand that will cover coding and grading components.
If the idea of learning how to teach coding in the classroom as an absolute beginner overwhelms you—you are not alone.
Let this article be your guide, your first step in learning how to teach kids coding.
What is coding?
Coding, or computer programming, is how we communicate with computers. Coding is how we tell a computer what actions to take by creating a list of instructions. And, with the right instructions, we can get computers to make lots of cool stuff.
Why teach it?
Coding isn’t just for kids who are interested in tech. It teaches kids how to be creators of digital content rather than only consumers of it. They will learn to understand how the tech they use every day actually works — and ideas for how to improve it.
The new curriculum is geared toward teaching students to create their own websites, apps and programs — to share their ideas with the world. By engaging in telling computers what to do, they are developing problem-solving skills and computational thinking.
It’s also a great way to mix in some excitement with existing curriculums! Asking for a history presentation? Let’s make a website! Identifying cell structure? Ask students to code a game of “label that cell” for their peers to play!
Most of all, coding is lots of fun and can be a creative way to reach students struggling with traditional education approaches.
Math terms like variables, arrays and operators can be tough to grasp for some students on their own. Still, in real-world applications, like building a video game in Scratch or creating an input/output in Python, these terms are used with immediate outcomes. Coding gives them a practical understanding of these concepts.
Students will find learning to code offers them a leg up while looking for jobs in the future. It’s also important to note that most employers looking for coding skills are outside traditional STEM occupations.
Is coding relevant to non-STEM subjects?
Because coding involves logic, deconstructive thinking, problem-solving and other thinking skills, it can easily be applied to all subjects.
As a beginner, you may think that teaching kids to code is all about writing code. But that’s not true! Once you get started, you’ll find that you spend much more time thinking about what you’ll write and how you’ll write it, than writing and syntax. Coding is problem-solving, deconstructing problems and rebuilding with the tools you’re given.
Because coding requires a certain level of technical skill, you may be worried it’s not for you or shy away from applying computer science to your curriculum. We’re here to tell you anyone can learn to teach code quickly and easily!
How to teach kids coding as an absolute beginner
1. It’s okay to say you don’t know
Embracing a collaborative learning process rather than a top-down approach can often be helpful — set the stage with an “it’s okay to say I don’t know” attitude and crowdsource knowledge with your students.
Crowdsourcing often means asking our friend, Google, for help. Search for an article or video made by someone who’s figured it out and apply the learning. This sets a collaborative learning experience because you’re not the only one who can access the most valuable computer science resource — Google!
If you’re wondering how to teach kids coding, just know that a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. You only have to know enough to get started.
It can be as simple as just adding a piece of code. Did it work? Great! If it didn’t (planned or otherwise), as a group, talk through what you and your students want the computer to do and what it was TOLD to do.
This tinker and discuss is a real-world process with great success in the tech space called Rubber duck de-bugging (check it out, ducks not required).
If one of your students has found a unique use of code for the assignment or a solution to a bug, have your student come to the front of the class or share their screen to show off what they learned. Showcasing this achievement is a great way to reinforce that computer science is a team effort!
Best of all, this works two-fold. It relieves the pressure on you and allows that learner to share their thinking and support others.
2. Choose a coding language
Always start with the basics of whatever language you’re using or teaching. Here is the path we recommend, but depending on your students’ ages and experience levels, you may skip a step or move through the lesson plan quickly. This allows you to benefit from laying a solid foundation while having the flexibility to move on to editors at an appropriate level for your learners.
Teach kids coding unplugged
Unplugged coding allows students to digest complicated concepts without using a computer. Especially for younger learners, unplugged coding is an excellent way to learn critical thinking, problem-solving and computational thinking. All the things that go along with coding.
Try Let’s go on a picnic. This unplugged coding game will help your students learn to think like a computer.
Block-based coding is a perfect tool to start with when learning how to teach kids coding. This is because it sets a foundational thought process of how computers work.
Although there are many ways to learn and teach coding, we recommend starting with Scratch and moving on to something else.
Scratch is a free, open-source tool to teach block-based coding. Best of all, your class can learn how to make a game in two hours instead of spending two weeks just learning the language.
We love Scratch because not only is it something you can start in grade one or two, but when a student takes computer science in post-secondary, they often start learning with Scratch.
Another cool thing about Scratch is that you can create a free educator account, where instead of having your students create their individual logins, you set up their credentials. You can see all their projects, monitor them and leave notes. There’s a whole host of things you can do within the platform.
Note that some school boards may not allow you to use Scratch, so you can use CS First, a Google product created with Scratch (it’s essentially the same thing but without open access to view wider networks).
Editors that can do both
Rather than just dropping learners straight into text-based coding, which they might find quite challenging, we start kids off with block-based coding. Once they’re totally comfortable with that, they’re ready for the next level. So that’s why having an editor that can do both is great.
CoSpaces can also do both, and they have the added benefit of creating some really cool VR and AR experiences using block or text-based coding!
As far as text-based languages go, Python is easy to learn and great for beginners. When switching to text-based coding, the biggest thing you’ll learn is that computers can’t make assumptions.
3. Check out some self-led learning opportunities
There are so many online resources if you’re looking for self-led learning. YouTube is a great resource, but it can be challenging to navigate if you don’t have a foundation.
If you’re looking for a lesser time commitment but still need to know how to teach kids coding — Consider teacher-centric experiences, with us, at Canada Learning Code.
4. Why you should learn to teach kids coding with Canada Learning Code
If short-term supported learning where you can teach a new skill in two hours is more your speed, consider joining Canada Learning Code for TeacherCon 2023 or a live group learning experience. And thanks to the support we receive from the Government of Canada through CanCode, learning how to teach coding with us is free for all educators!
Canada Learning Code is the leader behind the comprehensive vision for K-12 computer science education in Canada, which addresses the need for a robust and comprehensive computer science curriculum.
We have the expertise and credibility to unite and activate the teacher community. We do this in part with lesson plans focused on the different grade streams, explicit curricular connections and ready-made assessment options.
Provincial curriculums are modernizing, turning attention to computer science. This is excellent news. But we understand, teachers like you are more exhausted and underpaid than ever.
So, to support you through this important but challenging update, Canada Learning Code is hosting TeacherCon 2023. From Aug. 9 to 11, this free virtual participatory conference will show teachers how to teach computer science the easy way.
Our team is comprised of incredibly patient and entertaining staff who are educators first. With a love of technology, second. Trained to provide a safe and accessible space for all to learn computer science skills — regardless of their experience. We host meaningful workshops with helpful lesson plans you can run with your classrooms the very next day.
“I thought that the pedagogy for the activities was solid. The instructors modelled how I would teach it in my classroom. I thought the conference was well-organized and user-friendly! Everyone was supportive.”
(TeacherCon 2022 participant)
By delivering high-value, applied guidance, TeacherCon 2023 will provide teachers with what they need to feel supported and ready to teach computer science this coming school year.
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more about how to teach kids coding and bring computer science into your classroom:
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