You don’t need computers to teach code!

This post is about my favourite lesson from the free ‘Get Started With Code’ teacher guide by Apple. I love Lesson 5 because the progression in language, understanding, teamwork and sequencing is always great. In this free teacher guide, every lesson has a practical activity which teachers a computational thinking skill to solve a problem in ‘real life’.

This means you can teach coding without needing a computer!

The lessons do progress on to a free coding app called ‘CodeSpark’ where young learners use arrows (like on a Bee-Bot) to make characters move on screen. But the first part of each lesson plan is effective because it teaches the language and thinking of computing in a practical, off-screen activity. Children understand the concept in a real-life experience before applying it to on-screen coding. It also helps you to teach children how to problem solve and impacts on the Characteristics of Effective Learning by helping them to think critically and change the way they are approaching the task.

Download the free ‘Get Started With Code’ teacher guide here.

The practical activity in this lesson is called ‘Robot Fun’ and uses a squared floor grid with direction cards of forwards, backwards, left and right. You help children to ‘break the problem down’ and solve in it in manageable chunks. This a computational thinking skill called ‘decomposition’. It also helps children to understand what the commands of forwards, backwards, left and right mean in a real life, before applying this to a Bee-Bot or the CodeSpark app (OR BOTH!)

As well as step-by-step instructions on how to teach this lesson and a glossary of terms to teach, the lesson plan comes with free resources you can download and print, such as the command cards shown above. There are also photographs of what the activity should look like in your classroom

If you’re new to Get Started With Code, here are 13 highlights of the guides shared as short video clips!

However, with my early years children I take this activity back several steps and begin with a straight line track of 5 squares to move from the start to end. The children learn how to step ‘forward, forward, forward, forward, forward’ 1 square at time and then learn to say ‘forwards 5 times’ as a repeat loop phrase.

Next, I introduce a left or right turn with further forwards. The misconception that arises here is that pupils count all of the squares as ‘forwards’ because they don’t yet have the vocabulary and understanding of a left or right quarter turn on the spot. I take the role of the robot for this sequence of instructions and they notice how I move off the grid to ‘go forwards 7 times’.

The resource you’re seeing in the photographs are produced by TTS and perfect for this activity: Buy Physical Pre-Coding Mats and Cards Set | TTS

After introducing this concept and language, children create their own tracks of forwards and turns. They take turns being the robot and giving instructions. The arrow cards make the thinking visible and easy to debug when mistakes are made (debugging is a computational thinking term for spotting errors and fixing them).

Pupils start to demonstrate the skill of decomposition at this stage. They choose to work in sections, completing sequences of forwards. They begin again with a turn and further forward commands. I talk to them about the strategy of breaking a large problem in to achievable chunks.

By the end of the lesson they are able to create sequences of commands from beginning to end. They verbally give their algorithm to their robot actor.

In the images above, you are seeing how I link the learning to Little Red Riding Hood. We read this story and the challenge was to use a robot to transport Little Red safely from her house to her Grandma’s house and avoid The Big Bad Wolf. In the next lesson, I will begin with a full size floor grid to that was suggested in the original Lesson 5 plan of Get Started With Code. There will be a start square and end square but also a Wolf square to avoid! The children love navigating routes around The Big Bad Wolf.

What’s amazing is that you can teach all of these thinking skills and coding concepts using the practical activities from Get Started With Code. It will impact on children’s Characteristics of Effective Learning as you will help them to work critically and solve problems. You will also be preparing them for the Computing subject of the National Curriculum by developing their language of code.

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