Coding and robotics programs in classrooms reflect how integral technology is in our lives.

Educators like Angie Kalthoff, a technology integrationist in St. Cloud, MN, and Ann Bartel, an instructional technology specialist in Chilton, WI, teach K-8 students about technology through coding and computer science programs that incorporate the 4Cs of learning: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication.

Related content: 3 things to consider when introducing a K-12 coding or robotics program

In a recent edWebinar, Kalthoff and Bartel explain that they want to coach students and not just tell them what button to push or the correct sequences to move a robot across a mat. By being challenged to take ownership of their learning through design thinking, students grow to understand that it is okay not to get the right answer the first time and that failing is part of the learning process.

Start small

The best approach to introducing coding and robotics to K-8 students is as an exploratory program that will evolve into coding programs that challenge students with more complex projects.

Designing activities such as missions, during which students create simple coding programs that move robots along a course, can be useful with younger students. Interactive activities like “call and response” and a question of the week can engage students as a whole class or as a small group, while reinforcing coding terminology and concepts.

When pairing students for programming activities, ensure that all students have the same learning experiences by intentionally assigning and rotating jobs such as who holds the iPad or handles the robot.

A place for everything

Classroom organization is essential for introducing coding and robotics programs into classrooms.

Kalthoff emphasizes that the storage and efficient labeling of robots and coding materials are especially important to ensure that students spend less time getting robots and more time using robots.

Kalthoff and Bartel recommend that all materials needed are on hand and categorized to hold students accountable and keep the classroom organized. Collaborating with other educators in the school building can help determine whether coding and robotics programming is a separate activity during the day or is incorporated into the core subject areas.

Because there are times when the entire class may not be involved in coding activities, designate a flexible learning space where stations and rotation activities take place. Set classroom rules by creating a classroom chart that identifies expectations on everything from taking turns to respecting the robot and being a good partner.

Money trouble

Kalthoff and Bartel both realize there may be funding concerns when trying to initiate coding and robotics programs in schools. They recommend seeking out funding sources such as DonorsChoose.org, GoFundMe, and Google that can support and sustain coding and robotics programs in classrooms and school districts.

There are also professional learning funding options for professional development, curriculum writing, and robot programs from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

About the presenters

Angie Kalthoff is a former English language (ELL) teacher and a current technology integrationist for a large public school district in central Minnesota. She has a master’s degree in teaching and learning and is an advocate for computer science for all and a Code.org facilitator.

Ann Bartel is an instructional technology specialist for the School District of Chilton in Wisconsin. She started her teaching career as a gym (physical education) teacher and was bitten by the technology bug when spell check came out. In her current role, she supports teachers and students in their search for innovation and provides teachers with the PD they need to reach their goals. In addition, Ann says, “I could be on a poster that says, ‘Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.’” She has presented at local, and state, conferences on a variety of topics and is a Google Certified Educator.

About the host

Dylan Portelance is a product manager at Wonder Workshop, where he enjoys thinking and learning with educators about coding and robotics in K–8 classrooms. Previously, Dylan spent three years with the ScratchJr team, leading design research teams and developing curriculum for young children. He also spent two years writing code for design studios creating data visualizations and web applications. A creative coding tutor and musician, he is always searching for new ways to bridge computing with the arts. Dylan earned his MA in child development and BS in computer science and music from Tufts University.

Join the community

Coding & Robotics K-8 is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that supports teachers, administrators, and all educators to help students explore coding and robotics and develop math, logic, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and challenges them to think creatively

This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Wonder Workshop. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

About the Author:

Eileen Belastock, CETL is the Director of Academic Technology for Mount Greylock RSD in Williamstown, MA, and also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars. You can follow Eileen on Twitter @EileenBelastock.


Add your opinion to the discussion.