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Early Childhood Learners are Putting the T in STEAM

Fours Teacher Tammy Dunn
How do we prepare our youngest learners for their LREI journey and beyond? One way is by helping them learn to think creatively and develop 21st century skills today. There is no shortage of inspiration when it comes to creating learning experiences that incorporate science, engineering, art and math in the classrooms of our youngest learners, but where is the technology? I’ve set out to answer this question by introducing no screen coding as a starting point for the Fours. When you think about it, coding is a great way to reinforce the skills young children are already learning in the classroom; this includes skills such as problem solving, turn taking, following directions, patterning and sequencing in a fun and interactive way. Early coding is fun and exciting and can be built into most aspects of the classroom. The earlier children explore the basics of computational thinking, the more easily they will be able to learn, understand, and apply these ideas to a wide variety of contexts later in life. So the Fours classroom is just the right place to begin learning to code!
Coding stories and coding games are playful, hands-on ways for children to explore and experiment with key elements of computational thinking. They offer opportunities for interactions and collaborative learning. If computational thinking is new to you, you will find that it builds on many early math and literacy concepts. I find teaching coding is a great way for our earliest learners to think logically, develop spatial relations, communicate one-on-one, and be introduced to ordinal counting and directionality.
In the Fours, children understand and recognize that computers, iPads and smartphones are everywhere and help is to do many things like write text and use video and voice to communicate, search for information, solve problems and to play games and watch movies, . But how do these devices work? In the Fours, we talk about how code tells these devices what to do. After defining what coding is, we then work to create coding activities based on units of study in the class or other aspects of the classroom.
We incorporate coding activities first during Morning Meeting where children are put together in pairs or small groups and given a simple goal, such as walking from the carpet to their cubby. One child then acts as the “programmer” (the person that gives the directions or code) while another acts as a “robot” (the program) who must carry out the programmer’s instructions exactly as directed. During Worktime and Maker Time, favorite children’s stories like, The Gingerbread Man come to life as one friend directs another past “The Little Old Woman” and “The Little Old Man,” “The boy and the girl,” and hopefully beyond “The Fox!” Teachers watch as students strategize, some choosing the shortest, and some a trickier and more adventurous route. Sometimes I intervene and provide further challenges such as, “Get the Gingerbread Man across the pond but do not pass the farmer.” or “See if you can do it in less than four steps.”
Coding activities draw on skills such as observation, collaboration and prediction. During Storytelling children sequence stories from books and from their imaginations. On the roof, children use sidewalk chalk to create maps and robot grids. Similarly coding in Kindergarten happens weekly. Students play various board games in which they “program” a turtle or a mouse to get to a gemstone or a piece of cheese. Only after children are completely comfortable with these hands-on analogues of coding do we then begin to explore relevant digital technologies. Throughout the year, children move from paper coding, to using a tool called the Code-a-pillar, movie making (during a culminating experience within our Identity unit we use the app Stop Motion Animation, where children create movies featuring their Me Dolls) and finally, we create simple circuit using batteries, copper tape and LED lights.
The idea of the annual “hour of code” often leads me to wonder about the possibilities of coding to come. When taught in a hands-on integrated way, coding is alive and well all year long, integrated throughout the day and is an invaluable part of our students’ early elementary education; it is relevant for their learning in the current moment and also establishes an important foundation for increasingly sophisticated adventures in computational thinking.
Little Red School House
and Elisabeth Irwin High School

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