The Benefits of Teaching Coding to Transitional Kindergarten and Kindergarten Students

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By Jennifer Nishimoto

I started my educational journey teaching as kindergarten teacher for 13 years and a first grade teacher for 5 years.  In 201*, I transitioned into my current position as an Instructional Technology Coach (ITC). As someone who has worked both in the classroom and in the computer lab, I have a unique vantage point of understanding how teaching code successfully transitions into the general classroom and benefits TK and kindergarten students.

Our school has gone from having eight desktop computers in a classroom, to having one device per student, with 24 devices in total including desktops and iPads. Since going 1:1, I’ve noticed the value that teaching code can bring to early learners who are only 4 or 5 years old.

Since I am an ITC and see my students in the computer lab once a week, I wanted to teach code in a way that allowed the classroom teachers to become involved as well.  With codeSpark Academy, a researched backed computer science platform that’s free for public school teachers, I was easily able to set up accounts for each of the elementary school teachers at my school and all of their students, and taught them both how to use the app. Parents have downloaded the codeSpark app as well, and some of the students are now skipping and learning new puzzles and games at home before I even teach them in the classroom. This shows me that they are excited to code.  

After both the students and their teachers understand the basics of coding and how to use codeSpark, I have the ability to dig deeper with my computer lab instruction. Our schools has recently teamed up with 9Dots, a local non-profit organization committed to ensuring that all students have access to innovative and effective computer science education. They introduced us to their getCoding program, which they co-teach with us, showing how to teach students to tackle problems and build solutions with code.

Our school also purchased Dash & Dot robots, which is a robot that the young learners can play with coding, further enhancing their learning. While students continue to learn code through Dash & Dot in the lab, codeSpark is used to supplement their coding education in the general classroom. It is the foundational app the children use to continue practicing code and learn new skills like sequencing and loops.

The teachers at my school have now begun integrating codeSpark into their classroom. I introduce new features of the app as new skills are created that the students can play with in their classroom or at home. Teachers have told me that since teaching students code, it has helped them with math, particularly patterns, counting and recognizing quantities that are greater or less than the other. It also helps students follow multi-step directions, by encouraging them to focus and think through their work, keeping an eye out for any mistakes that need to be ‘debugged.’

The educators I work with at my school, also express how coding is making their students become better problem solvers. One of the main things I teach is that you learn from your mistakes. When coding, my students are comfortable learning from their errors and do not get as frustrated if it takes them a few tries to get it right. This mindset encourages them to look for errors, explain why there is an error, and try to solve the problem.

Here are some additional tips I’ve learned to help early learners and their teachers embrace coding in the classroom:

Tip 1: Make the lessons interactive and hands on. Most TK-K students are visual learners. Before jumping into coding on the iPad or computer, it helps to physically show students, you need to do this to move your robot or Foos character to the right – then have your students move to the right.

Tip 2: Show enthusiasm and energy to get your students excited, it’s contagious!

Tip 3:  Break the lessons down into small pieces. Providing students this age with too much information at once is overwhelming and can create frustration. Start with part of the lesson and then allow them to explore.

Tip 4: Use your words. When you help a student or use peer support, have students use their words to help. Do not touch their iPad – make them explain what they need help with. This reinforces the use of coding vocabulary.

Tip 5: Basic coding skills such as sequencing and loop foundation can then be transferred to any type of platform. They can go from codeSpark and the same concepts can be transferred to Dash and Dot robots. Whether it is picture blocks or dragging and dropping, it is the same skill with a different look.

Tip 6: Anyone can code: general education students, English learners, special education or non-readers.

There are so many benefits to learning coding before students can actually read. I have found that learning to code helps students in other areas in their education. After I teach a lesson, I always give my students free time to explore. While the students are “playing”, they are actually reinforcing what they’ve just learned. They are actually reinforcing what they’ve learned, actively becoming better problem solvers and better learners. After all, coding is fun!

Jennifer Nishimoto is an Instructional Technology Coach at Santa Monica Blvd. Community Charter School, seeing over 400 students a week from Transitional Kindergarten (TK)-2nd grade.