Tiny Techies: Nurturing Tomorrow's Coders Today

Learning to code helps young students develop their creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Beginning with unplugged activities (those with little to no tech), helps to lay a foundation by teaching the fundamental concepts before moving to more abstract concepts. 

The ideal progression would be as follows:

Unplugged activities —> Plugged (on the iPad) —> “Real Life” (robots)

This approach helps students grasp coding principles organically, building a strong framework for their future technological endeavors. 

Introducing coding vocabulary is an important first step! This way, students can become familiar with the terms and use them in their everyday language.  Some years I create vocabulary posters for the classroom and other years the students help design them. 

Here’s a copy to what we’ve done so far this year!

Below is an example of how I would introduce coding to young learners (grades K-3). Please note that each ‘activity’ could either take one lesson, or multiple! It all depends on the direction you want to go, and the age and stage of your students. 

Unplugged Activity: Read Aloud

Never underestimate the power of a good read aloud! While the book, ‘If You Give A Mouse A Cookie’, doesn’t directly teach coding concepts, it can be used as a starting point for introducing certain computational thinking principles and logical sequences. Following the introduction of coding vocabulary, engage students by turning them into detectives during the reading. Encourage them to identify instances where the book subtly references coding terms!

Unplugged Activity: Mazes

When I teach coding, one of the first activities I love to do with my students is mazes. Sometimes it’s on the board, and other times it’s on the floor. First we decide what actions or symbols (which can be written on individual white boards) correspond to commands. For example, a jumping jack means to move up one. Students love giving commands for an object to move through the maze, and oftentimes it turns into a “game” at recess time! 

Unplugged Activity: Human Robots

Next we typically move onto an activity we call ‘Human Robots’. Based on students' age and stage, there’s a variety of ways to proceed with this activity. The main goal is to have students give a code for someone else to follow. It can be done as a whole class, small groups or in partners. Students can write their own code, draw pictures, or use pre-made cards. 

In older grades, sometimes we even have the human robots complete “challenges”, like walking to the door, sitting down in a chair, or picking up a pencil that’s on the floor. 

Here’s the cards that I made (with pictures from ScratchJr).  

 

After I teach these three unplugged activities, I move onto coding on iPad! While there are plenty of options to pick from, for students in K-3, I like to start with ScratchJr. If you’re not sure where to get started, here’s a list of activities that you can start with. 

Have fun!


Additional Resources


Additional Apps 


All Replies

Posted on December 07, 2023

Thanks for the scratch jr human coding icons. That’s a really great idea that scaffolds for coding in scratch jr.


Posted on December 07, 2023

I strongly agree with all of this! Unplugged coding is the basis, it needs to be taught before moving on. Students understand coding better afterwards! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Posted on December 08, 2023

This is great! So often the younger groups miss out on coding due to the misconception of what coding is and has to look like. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and the resources you’ve created.

Posted on December 20, 2023

This is fantastic, Shauna!

And, it seems like a great structure for all learners — not just early learners!

Great work! 🙌

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