By now, most educators understand the importance of coding. Programmers continue to be in high demand, and coding improves much-needed skills like creativity, persistence, problem solving, and critical thinking.
But just because you know you should teach something, doesn’t mean you can. Perhaps you can’t figure out how to fit it into your already crowded curriculum, or maybe you’re intimidated to try. eSchool News is here to help.
We asked 11 Sphero Heroes—teachers from all over the U.S. who are using Sphero robots to transform teaching and learning in their classrooms and beyond—to share their expertise about bringing coding into the classroom.
Here is their advice.
11 ways to teach coding skills
1. “Bring coding into your classroom by thinking big picture. Talk about computational thinking first in real-world situations, like ‘How can we break this problem down and solve it?’ Coding isn’t just syntax! It’s about knowing the basic chunks like if/else and loops, and those can be discussed real world daily. My high school girls in programming go for internship interviews and they are repeatedly told that memorizing languages doesn’t matter nearly as much as knowing how to start breaking problems down.”
—Brandy New, instructional technology coordinator, Hardin County (KY) Schools
2. “Start from day 1. You and your students will not see it as one more thing to do, but as a part of what you do. Jump in head first, fight the disequilibrium, allow students and yourself to learn. You will encounter challenges; don’t give up. Coding can bring a level of authentic engagement to our classrooms that we’ve never experienced.”
—Michael Cullen, elementary science program specialist, Marion County (FL) Public Schools
3. “Bringing coding into the classroom does not need to be scary! Sometimes we as teachers struggle with wanting to master content first before teaching when sometimes the most transformational moments for our kids are watching us fail forward. Just adding one or two elements of coding to a unit or project opens the door for students to think in more creative ways and builds their own comfort with it.”
—Hannah Jimenez, digital learning specialist, Lenoir County (NC) Public Schools
4. “My best advice is to let go of being the expert. You are there to guide students in the process and encourage them to show the persistence to overcome obstacles. It is okay if you do not exactly know how do something. It is a wonderful thing when you learn side by side with your students.”
—Chris Schmitz, computer technology teacher, St. Vrain Valley (CO) School District
5. “My favorite ways to engage kids in STEM is to provide them ample exploration time. We take time to enjoy whatever tool/concept we are using without having any expectations or requirements on the students. I like to do this because it helps kids get excited about what the tool/concept is, and then we start to dig deeper into it and see how and why it does what it does. This is true for everything from robotics to engineering.”
—Andy Wall, innovation teacher, Orchard Farm (MO) School District
6. “It’s okay to start off with simple projects when first bringing coding into your classroom. It’ll help students build up their coding skills as they explore what’s possible.”
—Lauren Marrone, science teacher, Paulding County (GA) School District
7. “I teach computer literacy and technology for Pre-K4 through 8th grade and, no matter what age, computer science is very intimidating, especially at first. It can be very off-putting to students and adults alike, especially if their only understanding of coding is zeros and ones. For my students, I think of the activity first (typically cross-curricular) and visualize a way to substitute a traditional activity with one that integrates basic computer science principles but doesn’t focus on that. By doing so, I reverse engineer the end-product of the activity to find creative ways that introduce coding.
I create pre-coded templates that I call ‘skeleton codes.’ These provide enough for students to run a program but still allows the students to be in complete control of the variables. From that point on, and for most students, I create less and less as they become more familiar with the coding program, such as Scratch or Sphero Edu. In my teaching experience thus far, this method of introducing them to code helps transition them from co-pilot to pilot. Being that we all move and learn at different paces, I still create varying degrees of pre-coded templates to aid as a parachute.”
—Garrett Gross, computer lit. teacher & technology coordinator, Archdiocese of Chicago
8. “I love engaging my students in STEAM through engineering challenges. The challenges always connect to my state standards, and they require students to take content and build solutions for problems. My Sphero Pollution Pick Up Challenge is probably one of my favorite engineering challenges. In it I ask students to design a method for cleaning water-based litter with Sphero as the engine moving the system. It is so much fun! Students use so many critical-thinking skills and have a blast.”
—Leah LaCrosse, 8th-grade science teacher, Huron (OH) City School District
“In short, my best advice is to give students a task, show them basics of block coding, and let them reach that task in a way that they see fit. Then I can assist them when they make errors or want changes. What I have discovered is that students have become excellent problem solvers without realizing they are doing it.”
—Nick Palczak, physics, forensics, and robotics teacher, Adirondack (NY) Central School District
10. “The most important thing to remember when bringing STEAM to your classroom is that STEAM education can fit anywhere. You are not excluded from incorporating coding and robotics into your classroom just because your subject matter isn’t traditionally seen as a coding or robotics class. A big part of STEAM education is imagination, and that means the imagination of the educator as well. Robotics can teach math and science, but it can also teach empathy, logical sentence, and research. Start simply and the ideas will develop! In my ELA class, I start each year with Sphero by trying to simulate a scene from a novel and develop a relationship between my students and the novel. Then we move on to basic coding and beyond.”
—Rich Perry, ELA teacher, Bellmore-Merrick (NY) Central High School District
11. “Whenever you add coding to the classroom, your students are engaged at a far different level. It’s important to allow for creativity, exploration, and social interactions. Coding fosters these important skills, while having fun. Keep in mind when adding coding that you don’t have to be the expert. Let your students drive the learning and watch the magic happen.”
—Laure Guyon, assistant coordinator for model schools, Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex (NY) BOCES