We're excited to welcome our guest writer Dena Orfanitopoulos also know as Miss.Tech Queen! Dena is an Enrichment & Technology Teacher for grades 1-4 in New Jersey. Today she'll be sharing all about how to add elementary coding stations into your classroom- even if you have no experience or little materials!
What are Elementary Coding Stations?
Coding stations are a block of time set up for students to rotate and move from activity to activity. This can be one class period, 35-45 minutes, or longer.
Students are split up into smaller groups of 4-5 students. However, organizing the number of students who work in each group depends on your class size. If you have more stations and fewer students, you can even have groups of 2 or 3.
Students rotate to different activities every 10-15 minutes, depending on the time frame they have. The time can change depending on your length. Remember, everything can be tailored to work for your classroom!
Why use Coding Stations to Teach Code?
Are you a teacher who wants to include more coding in your classroom? You can incorporate coding into your lessons, whether you teach a homeroom, a computer class, or in a STEM or Makerspace setting.
The biggest struggle teachers face when trying to incorporate coding is the lack of devices. It isn't easy managing an entire classroom and trying to find robots for all your kids. One great solution is to add elementary coding stations into your classroom!
Stations are a great way to incorporate more coding, even if you have little materials. You can spread out your resources, and guess what … you don't even need robots! Follow along below to learn how to easily add coding stations into your classroom.
How to Add Coding Stations in the Classroom
1. Preparing to use Coding Stations
Before implementing coding stations, it is important to review the basics of coding. Start off by teaching your students coding vocabulary terms. Terms like algorithm, sequence, bug, loop are crucial to understanding the basics of coding.
You can even begin using these words in everyday use. For example, an algorithm is a set of instructions for the computer, and then you can give your students an algorithm for daily to-dos.
Reading coding children's books, using coding flashcards, or watching fun videos are also great ways to help kids start to understand what they will be learning. Below are two favorites as examples.
2. Choose a Type of Coding Station
If you do not have devices in your room, no problem. You can teach coding without a device or fancy robot. I like to relate coding to everyday tasks. For example, students can create an algorithm for building a sandcastle or making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich- video like the one above are also a huge help teaching these topics without devices.
Also, one of my students' favorite games is coding hopscotch. This is a fun partner game where one student is the computer/robot, and the other student is the programmer. The programmer tells the computer/robot where to move. The students will say things like, "move two spots right, rotate to the left, walk straight two spots." You can use floor tiles as one spot or draw squares with chalk outside. This teaches students how important details are in any algorithm.
As a result of a lot of teaching not having devices, there are a TON of unplugged coding activities online including printables and classroom activities. Click the link below where you can find over 10 examples to try.
Kodable is an engaging, interactive game that teaches students how to code. This game can be played on a tablet or desktop computer making it an easy way to add elementary coding stations into your classroom. Kodable has many free levels where students can learn essential skills like looping, debugging, and sequencing.
Students drag and drop directions to program a Fuzz character to move through a maze as they learn the basics of coding. My students absolutely love playing this game. They don't even realize they are problem-solving and building so many important foundational skills. They are obsessed with the fun characters and how they can even use code to customize them!
Robot Stations: Younger Elementary
Next, using robots in the classroom brings a smile to every child's face! And there are many different robots have been created that are student-friendly. For instance, I love using Robot Mouse from The Learning Resources for kindergarten to second grade, or Dash and Dot.
To allow my students to problem solve more, I use printable coding mats. Students pick up task cards that determine where the bot should be programmed to move to. This creates a more guided activity for students to complete independently at a station.
Ozobots are also excellent classroom robot that does not require any extra device. These little bots work with color code. They follow black lines, and with red, green, and blue, you can form code for them to do a specific task. To help my students focus more on the code, I use premade mazes. The students must decide which color code to add to get the Ozobot to reach the end of the maze. Store the mazes in a basket, and students can choose their favorite one at the station.
However, for upper elementary students, I love using Spheros. An app and tablet are needed to use a Sphero. They are programmed with block coding through the app. I suggest getting masking tape and creating paths and markers on the floor.
I challenge my students to program the Sphero bots to reach these markers as they move around the room. Your students can tie in engineering and build an obstacle course for their robot to drive through to extend this even more.
3. How to Add Coding Stations into your Classroom
Now, let's add elementary coding stations into your classroom. I love spreading my students out all over the classroom. I use small rugs, spaces on the floor, tables to set up with—students like flexible seating and working in new place, so this makes it fun for them.
Keep your materials organized by using clear bins or trays. Therefore setup and clean-up can be easy for you and your students. Pinterest is filled with tons of ideas for station management so you can find what works best for your classroom.
4. How to Introduce Coding Stations to Students
Finally, before you begin with this model, be sure to your students know how to use each activity. I like to introduce coding stations, different robots, and apps one at a time. Set clear expectations so your students know what they are doing at each station. Reminder, I always display a timer on my Smartboard to help students keep track of time!
If you are a homeroom teacher, create stations for your students on Maker Mondays or Fun Fridays. As a specials teacher, this setup can be used for an entire unit. But above all, the most important thing is that your students are having fun and being exposed to coding. Coding teaches students collaboration, resilience, critical thinking, and more!
About Dena Orfanitopoulos
Dena started her journey when she was placed into a new position teaching 350 students a week in five different grade levels and felt lost. Her district had very high expectations to incorporate new technology and STEM, with zero guidance.
She spent years researching new ideas, attending conferences, and trying to put all of this into one cohesive plan. When she started sharing her classroom projects with others and saw they felt like she once did, she made it her goal to provide educators with tools and strategies for implementing digital projects, using new technology, and creating engaging projects.
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