Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Subitizing Message in a Backpack


Here is a link to my newest publication from Teaching Young Children (NAEYC)! It's a printable 'Message in a Backpack' that explores subitizing in depth. Feel free to print it out and play some of the subitizing games at home with your children!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Storytelling Coding

The children continue to express an interest in coding so in order to capitalize on this, I asked them to think about some fun obstacles that they might like to encounter if they could have an adventurous walk to school.

They thought it would be fun to walk through a forest, jump over a lake, move through a city, and go around hot lava! I printed realistic over head pictures after doing a google search and we placed them under our clear plexiglass coding board so they could be easily seen.

The children decided where home was and indicated this with a little wooden house. We used an overhead picture of a school and decided this was the end point. The children decided where the obstacles would be and these were placed underneath the clear coding grid.

One child was the player and another was the programmer. The player was moved around the board based on coding directions from the programmer. The programmer was able to help the player move with the commands 'go up', 'go down', 'go left', 'go right' and 'jump'. We decided quickly that other commands like 'swim' might be fun to try as well!

It was fun to observe the children program the child around the obstacles.

They weren't interested in a clear path to school and instead led each other on whimsical journeys around the board, jumping over water and coming close to the hot lava, even when it wasn't anywhere near the school!

An extension we'd like to try next is to use a favourite read aloud and encourage the children to create the setting and characters for the text. Once they do they can use the coding board to retell the story by mapping out the character's journey through pictures depicting the setting!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Outdoor Coding

It's been so beautiful around here! We have been fortunate to have a warm end of Autumn and this has meant lots of learning potential outdoors. The children's interest in coding continues so we used the opportunity to turn our cement pad into a large grid using tape. Chalk lines would work just as well!

The children love stuffed animals so for this activity we used one that is really popular with them! We agreed on the starting grid...

...and using a dry erase board the children took turns coding one another. One child was the programmer and used the board as well as giving oral directions to help the player move from 'start' to 'finish' along the grid.

Because we had agreed upon the commands and symbols that represented each and were using them consistently in our coding activities, the children were very familiar and comfortable using them in new coding situations (e.g., "go up", "go down", "jump", "go left", "go right").

Many children wanted to experience both roles - that of programmer and player. Because the children were giving each other directions this activity really strengthened their oral language skills. They had to effectively give commands that would lead the player in the desired path and the player needed to carefully listen to the directions in order to be successful. This activity promoted team work and collaboration.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Coding Scavenger Hunt

Engaging children in coding activities has been a priority for us this week. The children are very interested in mapping, grids, and giving each other directions so we want to capitalize on these expressed interests and weave in as much math and spatial reasoning as possible. 
A simple game that the children enjoyed was looking for treasure.  We created an array of post it notes on a large piece of chart paper.
Hidden underneath some of the post-its were silly emoji face stickers.

During circle we modeled how to give each other directions for moving on the grid using the coding commands we had been practicing - go up, go down, go left, go right, and jump.  We agreed that the starting point would be at the top, centre of the grid.
The programmer (Mrs. McLennan in the following picture) used the coding symbols and also orally gave the coding directions and the player had to follow the commands until the programmer stopped.

At that point the player lifted the note to see whether or not a 'treasure' (what the children termed the faces) was discovered beneath. If there was one, the programmer and player switched and someone else had a turn. If not, then directions continued to be given until one was eventually discovered.

The children became quite proficient at giving each other directions. We are working towards helping them understand that the directions need to go in over, line by line, and that when we write code we need to ensure they are in order.

This is also a great game for strengthening a child's listening skills as they have to pay careful attention to the directions and follow them precisely in order to be successful. Coding strengthens communication and cooperation. Children have to be patient with one another throughout the process too!

Thursday, October 27, 2016


In order to capitalize on the children's interests in all things Halloween, I offered a large pumpkin, pushpins, and elastics today to see what they would do. They immediately began to make connections!

"Look! It's like the spider webs we made yesterday!"

"This is like when we put elastics on the geoboards!"

"I want to poke the pins all over the pumpkin like it's having a big operation!"

They immediately got to work, being mindful to not put elastics on pins that weren't fully inserted into the shell because these weren't strong enough and the elastic would snap off.

"Look at all the shapes! It's like the pumpkin has a mixed up face! I see diamond eyes, but they aren't in the right spot!"

It's pretty hard to tell who has the bigger smile here!

Halloween Inspired Coding

The children have been very interested in maps lately; they create them at our writing table and use them in their dramatic play, refer to printed maps during outside time as they run and ride around on the tricycles, and talk about hiding treasure in our classroom and creating maps to help others find it. They are curious about places in our school and the hallways we need to take to get there.

As I reflected upon their genuine interest in location and maps, I thought it was the perfect time to introduce them to coding. Why coding?

1. Coding is basic language in the digital age. Computer programming is a language and is going to be an essential skill for many of our children to know as they grow. Our world is digital - providing children with activities that integrate communication, thinking and problem solving will be valuable for their future success. So many people are technology shy, and helping our children to be technologically literate is vital. The earlier one learns and practices the basics of this type of language, the easier it will be and the more positively it will affect their developing brains. 

2.  Coding is math. It involves spatial reasoning and logic. Helping children to think about direction, location and movement will strengthen their math skills. Children need to count the number of spaces being moved and indicate in which direction they are headed. Coding integrates a number of math skills together in one experience.

3.  Coding encourages problem solving. When activities like coding provide a challenge for the user, or there are multiple ways of solving the same problem, an emphasis can be placed on the process of learning and the child can consider multiple paths of arriving at a solution and choose the best or most efficient strategy. Planning ahead and being critical about the path of the activity is key for success.

4. Coding strengthens communication. When a child codes, she or he needs to indicate directions to another person (or the computer). These directions need to be as succinct as possible. When two children are playing coding games the child receiving the directions needs to be an active listener in order to move the coding pieces in the correct way. Clear communication is essential for success.

Want to learn how to better support your child's coding at home? Read this great article from CBC called Why Kids Should Learn to Code (And How to Get Them Started)

For today's coding activity I decided to use a spooky Halloween scenario to get the children to buy into the experience right from the start.

I created a simple grid using masking tape and our clear sensory bin lid. I wanted to engage the children in an experience that would help them understand the basics of coding. For this game we had four basic commands - "go right", "go left", "go up" and "go down". 

We had two pictures - one of a house (where the character would start) and one of candy (which is where the character needed to end). The children pretended that this was a trick-o-treater heading out on a scary Halloween night where many obstacles like bats, spiders, and other spooky creatures might be blocking the path. The ultimate goal was to move a character from the house to the candy as efficiently as possible without running into a spooky obstacle. 

The children used sticky notes with arrows drawn on them to indicate the codes. I encouraged them to verbalize their thinking and count the number of steps in their code. (e.g., "Move left 3 times, move up three times, move left one time, move up two times, move right one time").

This activity generated a great amount of interest, with many spectators watching the action or offering suggestions for more efficient ways to get to the candy faster.

As the children became more comfortable they created more complex paths to the candy by strategically placing the obstacles in the way. They were also very attuned to the grid and noticed when too many obstacles were placed on it and wouldn't allow a clear path.

In order to offer children a different perspective, I also had paper grids prepared with the same experience (house, candy, spooky obstacles) and invited the children to plan out the code directly on the paper.

Blank hundreds charts were also available for those children who wanted to draw their own Halloween obstacles and then program the code.

Stay tuned as we will continue with our spooky Halloween coding tomorrow and use more ideas that can be easily implemented into many scenarios to encourage children to use the basics of programming. For those who would like to print the coding pages used in this experience, please click on the following links.

Simple Halloween Coding Grid

Difficult Halloween Coding Grid

Printable Halloween Coding Pieces

Blank Hundreds Grid
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