The TLC group examined the impact of coding on early learners as it relates to their mathematical (in the area of spatial reasoning) and literacy development (oral language, decoding, sequencing). The movement towards coding is happening in many classrooms across the Toronto District School Board. However, kindergarten was left out of the conversation. Our project examined the impact of scaffolding pre-coding skills, unplugged coding opportunities and coding using technology.
We used the following to guide our inquiry:
- To understand coding (What is coding? How do we code? Why should we code?)
- To become proficient with using technology to modify and redefine student learning
- To become proficient using the iPad as a way to document student learning
Toronto District School Board
Toronto District School Board
Toronto District School Board
Professional Learning Goals
As Team Lead, there is an expectation of engaging in learning for oneself and the facilitation of learning as a group. Facilitating a project through a collaborative inquiry model allows multiple voices and experiences to be heard and acknowledged. There is also the technical aspect of the project as Team Lead in terms of how to structure the budget and timelines. Using the budget appropriately for release time kept us cognizant that our meetings needed to have a clear and defined focus and allowed us to scaffold our learning opportunities appropriately.
One of the benefits of working as a team and dedicating time to meet together was to share our observations and wonderings with our colleagues and discuss possible next steps for our students. It allowed us to engage in reflective practice about how we were presenting coding tasks to our students, the benefits of these tasks for our students’ learning, possible means of assessment for learning, and possible connections to other areas of the program. The ability to have a team also allowed us to take individual risks in our own practice as we could return to the team for troubleshooting.
Furthermore, reaching out to the wider TDSB community through a classroom visit and through social media (Twitter) was beneficial in sharing our journey and learning from other educators’ journeys. These connections made continue to this day and continue to foster a collaborative learning network. Having the opportunity to challenge one another’s view on a task, on documentation, and analysis of our assessment also gave us the opportunity to consider multiple perspectives and build upon each other’s ideas. Ultimately, this was pedagogical documentation in action.
Activities and Resources
The resources Learning and Teaching Early Math: The Learning Trajectories Approach by Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama and Taking Shape provided a foundational backdrop for understanding the ways in which young children develop mathematically. Furthermore, the resource Taking Shape sequences coding activities developmentally. As always with any resource, one size does not fit all, and this where working as a team allows you to unpack/modify pre-determined activities to suit your context through critical dialogue.
We also used the TDSB’s coding continuum to understand the skills we could develop in the Early Years and used this to design tasks where students were asked to sequence dances, songs, paths from point A to point B, etc. with the use of visual symbols. We made connections to literacy and mathematics through First Steps Reading and Oral Language Developmental Continuum by the Education Department of Western Australia and we also made connections to Ontario’s Kindergarten Program document.
We also accessed our board’s digital lead learner network and connected with an educator who implements coding across grades K-8 through his role as a teacher librarian. We visited his school and observed how coding is scaffolded across the grades. We learned about resources such as Code Academy where intermediate students can access online tutorials that guide them through learning coding languages such as Python, HTML and CSS. It was interesting making the links between the literacy developmental continuum and the math developmental continuum.
Students had opportunities to explore coding apps such as Blue-Bot, Kodable and Scratch Jr.
While we consulted Taking Shape as a starting off point for our coding project, we found that our students did not have some prerequisite skills required for even the initial tasks, such as having positional vocabulary. As a result, we had to develop tasks that exposed our children to this language and give them multiple opportunities to use the language in various contexts (i.e., targeted activities using positional word cards, playing Simon Says, etc.). This is a reminder that we must use resources with a critical eye and take opportunities to consider the needs of our current children. In addition, we must modify tasks, if necessary, to meet those specific needs.
We also used the Bee-Bot app initially and realized that at this point it was too challenging for our students after a certain level for them to sequence a path. The Blue-Bot app was more user-friendly and provided multiple entry points for all students. This was a reminder that technology must be appropriately evaluated.
Enhancing Student Learning and Development
Coding is not an add-on to a fulsome kindergarten program – it is a lens through which students problem-solve, reason and collaborate; all vital skills for an unknown future. Activities for coding that were based on a story created a sense of empathy for children. For example, a coding activity where students were asked to reunite Bee-Bot (coding bot) with his friend Newton the Turtle (a toy turtle) who were separated by an obstacle resulted in a high degree of engagement and problem-solving. Children worked together to code a path to reunite the two friends. The universal theme of friendship created a sense of urgency for the children to solve the problem.
From a mathematical perspective, the elusive concept of estimation became easier for students to understand as they were asked to predict how many moves it would take for Bee-Bot to move from Point A to B. Students visualized the distance Bee-Bot traveled in one move and activated their visual spatial skills or used non-standard units of measurement to predict the distance traveled prior to coding a path for Bee-Bot.
By providing multiple opportunities for coding in multiple contexts, children began developing an understanding of coding as using symbols to represent a function and how to use those symbols to create a sequence to complete a task. We began to see children use this idea in their play as they used visual symbols to code dances, songs, the direction on a track made out of blocks, and to communicate the trajectory of a marble on a marble run. By having an increased exposure to positional language and multiple opportunities to use positional language, students began to develop that language and use it in different contexts. Some English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with special needs began using the picture symbols of positional language and gestures to communicate the direction of items during their play.
Coding also provided some of our pre-readers opportunities to develop pre-reading skills such as directionality, return sweep, understanding that print carries meaning, matching one word to one visual symbol, and using visuals to read the words. Coding also provided our children with links to literature as we used events in read-aloud books to develop a coding invitation. These literature connections provided coding opportunities that were grounded in storytelling and developed their understanding of real-life applications for coding. In addition, by presenting coding invitations as problems, students developed an understanding of how they can use problem-solving to contribute to a wider community, such as in a story or in their classroom.
When playing games such as Pathway Moves and when coding Bee-Bot, students had opportunities to communicate their strategies for coding a pathway, collaborate with one another on the quickest path to the end, and to help their peers when they could not identify the bugs in the code. There was a large emphasis placed on the big idea that there are many ways to solve a problem and that knowledge is constructed in a social context.
Through the Expressive Arts program (a prep), educators and students were exposed to the project as they investigated how movement and coding are connected. Students participated in movement activities such as Just Dance and movement stories in which they were exposed to directionality, location in space and sequencing. Students also used Bee-Bot (coding bot) through a storytelling context. The Early Childhood Educator extended the learning in the classroom space.
Toward the end of the project, the team developed a hands-on workshop for our staff where we set up a variety of unplugged and plugged coding invitations and the staff were invited to engage in these tasks, have conversations with their colleagues, and ask the team members questions. We had rich discussions about the benefits of coding in the Early Years, how coding connects to the Kindergarten Program document, what to observe when children engage in coding, and how to scaffold coding in their classroom. After this workshop, educators continued to dialogue with us about how to use coding in their classrooms and about some of the invitations they tried in their classrooms.
We also used social media (Twitter) as a platform for sharing some of the experiences we had.
We feel that embarking on this project opened the doors to discussion around the importance and value of coding in the Early Years among educators and students. It also provided team members the flexibility to explore and take risks in the ways in which we presented coding to our students
One success that came out of this project was the vast amount of coding opportunities we were able to develop that had links to literacy, mathematics, the arts and even physical education. By providing students multiple opportunities across multiple contexts, we feel that they can create links between the experiences which helps to foster a deeper understanding for what coding is and how we use it.
By engaging in this project, we also developed an understanding of what skills children require to begin coding, and what tasks we can present to our students to truly scaffold that learning process. Furthermore, we developed an understanding of the importance of unplugged coding opportunities for our students. Having opportunities to move our own bodies on a grid and in different directions (i.e., turn left, turn right) helped our students begin to understand the positional language and how robots such as Bee-Bot move.
The team aspect of this project was vital to its success. By having opportunities to meet, plan, share and discuss our experiences, we built upon one another’s understanding of coding and were able to provide rich feedback, multiple perspectives and ongoing opportunities to reflect on our practice.
Digital Lead Learners: Intro to Coding in Elementary Grades
Coding in Elementary: A Professional Learning Resource for Ontario Educators
Taking Shape: Activities to Develop Geometric and Spatial Thinking Grades K-2
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