coding NGSS science

3 ways to leverage elementary coding for NGSS standards

A management formula for incorporating more early learning coding into the curriculum without giving up critical components.

As our district has started exploring the role that computer coding should play in our students’ educational lives, more than once the following question has come up: What NGSS standards will this cover?

This is a critical question. If we are going to take instructional time to work with students to code more, we are going to have to quit doing something else in order to have the time to do it.

So, what should we give up? Will coding allow us to cover other standards to ensure that students will be well prepared?

Fortunately, there are good answers to these questions across all different grade levels. Here, we will focus on science. If a teacher were to give up some “science time” and teach coding to students, which of the NGSS standards would be covered?

Kindergarten Through 2nd Grade
: Even at this early age, the mental concepts that are developed while coding are good for student thinking. There are many advantages to using coding in the classroom, so what would be covered in the science standards that would deepen the student’s learning?

Engineering and design: The knowledge needed for mastery of these standards could easily be developed through a basic, early-literacy coding curriculum. “The teacher can develop and use models” is one of the three root standard areas. It includes students using and analyzing data about the outcome of different situations, students creating visual models to solve problems, and using new tools to solve problems. Students at this level can “code” without the use of language, but the concepts of “language” can be integrated as they learn it.

A great starting point for this is and their unplugged videos. These give practical examples of how knowledge can be built from the early years to help get students thinking like programmers.

(Next page: Meeting NGSS standards through coding in other grade levels)

3rd Through 5th Grades
: As students move into the older elementary grades, they will be ready for higher-level coding and thinking. The more background they have at this point, the better—but even for beginners, the standards at this age range are very applicable.

Planning and carrying out investigations: At this point developmentally, students should be able to plan more for their coding projects. Some of the tinkering that students do in the primary grades is great for exploration, but beginning in third grade, we want students to be able to plan—and then carry out the plan through an investigation.

There are many avenues to accomplish this, but I have found that small, somewhat inexpensive robots are great for this stage of education. The Dash and Dot robots can build into EV3 Lego Robots if resources allow. The best way to meet this standard is to have the students develop the plan, or pattern of movement, before they actually start coding.

This upfront thinking is critical for students. Many of them come to us with a “video game” attitude toward technology—they just keep trying things until something works. This can be somewhat effective, but is extremely inefficient. Plus, this isn’t the type of thinking we want to reinforce in our classrooms. We don’t want students to keep guessing at how to spell a word until they get it right, we want them to apply rules to words and sounds so they can spell it right on the first try.

Middle School-6th Grade Through 8th Grade: 
If all students are exposed to coding at an early age, some will latch onto it and some will not. As students get older, they may not all be master coders, but they should all be able to apply the principles of the thinking to various contexts. Here is how that may look in a science lab:

Structure, function, and information processing: At this point, this is less about the coding and more about the thinking for many students. Consider the standard, “Gather and synthesize information that sensory receptors respond to stimuli by sending messages to the brain for immediate behavior or storage as memories.” The student can create a code, either real or unplugged, that demonstrates a stimuli coming in and then a series of receptors reacting. These kinds of linear, if-then science situations are perfect for a “code” to be applied. Possibly, some of the students who are more adept at coding could actually create real-world applications of this using a Boxlight Portable STEM Labdisc as the stimuli source.

In high school, the standards—though more diverse—are no less suited for applying the concepts of computer science to their field and concepts. There are many ideas, so don’t fall for the “there’s no time to work in coding” mantra. Once students have some coding knowledge, there is no end to how the other standards can be supported.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

INNOVATIONS in K-12 Education


Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.