Over the holidays I worked my way through the Introduction to Computer Science course at code.org. It seemed a very engaging way to introduce children to computer science. As a reliever, I get very limited opportunities to try out new things in the classroom so I was delighted to be able to try out this resource on a year 3 class the other day.
In this school, computers are still in the library with each class having set times for ICT. The children usually work on educational games/powerpoints/word documents etc so this was something a little different. We had been working on problem solving in maths that morning so I used that as a context for the session. I showed the children two of the introductory videos in the classroom (listening to the videos would be difficult in the computer lab). I stopped the videos and repeated parts that I thought the children might struggle with. Having worked through the course myself, I already knew some of the areas they might find tricky. Then I sorted them into buddies, gave them each a slip of paper with the URL for the site and off we went.
The levels start off very simply but the complexity does ramp up a bit once the concept of loops is introduced. I suspected that they might struggle a bit with that and most of them did. Some steamed ahead though and a few groups got up to level 9-10. What impressed me the most were how totally engaged they were in solving the puzzles. Even when they had to do a level multiple times, very few of them got discouraged. They just tried again. Having familiar contexts like Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies really helped to drive engagement too.
As well as some obvious connections to maths (particularly mapping), the code.org course connects very well to the key competencies in the NZ curriculum:
- Thinking - the children are actively problem solving, trying out their ideas, seeing what works and what needs to be changed.
- Using language, symbols and text - coding requires the children to use language in a very precise way and also to understand concepts such as "repeat".
- Managing self - the children had to learn to deal with failure and to reflect on what needed to be changed to succeed.
- Relating to others - the children worked in pairs and shared their ideas with their buddy on how to solve each puzzle.
I barely scratched the surface of the code.org course (which includes off line activities) with the children. I would love to see how the full course worked with a class.