Getting Started with Coding: 18 Tools for Early Learners

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After attending some recent conferences and participating in a few online discussion communities in the ISTE networks, I’ve noticed more of an interest in finding strategies, specific tools or other resources for getting students started with coding. A lot of the questions are focused on how to get started with coding in the early years, the elementary and middle school levels, and where to find the best tools.

There are definitely a lot of tools out there for educators to choose from. Some are web-based and offer free coding applications and activities for students. There are also many paid options that are more complex, perhaps involving robots, other necessary equipment, materials or starter kits. However with so many possibilities available, it is easier than ever to find something that meets a specific age group or content area, and that fits within any budgetary concerns that might exist.

As educators, when it comes to a topic such as coding, we may feel like it is too complex or that we need specialized knowledge or training in order to get started in our classrooms. However, that is not the case. It just takes exploring a few options and being open to learning right along with and from your students.

There are many benefits to coding. By creating opportunities for students to explore coding, we begin to prepare them with what will likely be a skill they need for the future of work. Learning to code also creates opportunities for students to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills and is also beneficial for promoting the development of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills and fostering peer collaborations. Depending on the type of coding tool or platform used, students can independently explore and push through any of the challenges that might exist and become more confident as they work through these challenges, especially while working with peers.

Here are 18 options to check out for early learners:

1) Bee-Bot is a colorful robot for children (ages three to seven) to learn about coding. Using directional keys, children can enter up to 40 commands to program their Bee-Bot to move in different directions.

2) CodaKid is a platform for teaching students (ages seven to 14) about coding, programming and even game creation and website design. There are online courses available for coding and programming that include Minecraft and Roblox.

3) Code with Google offers free resources for students with an interest in coding and computer science. Google CS First, for middle school students, offers programming explorations and lessons which come with scripts and many additional resources for teachers.

4) CodeforLife offers free resources for teaching about coding to students of all ages. Students can start with basic coding through Blockly and progress to coding with Python. The site also includes helpful resources for teachers to get started.

5) CodeSpark is a platform for teaching children (ages five to nine) about coding through a variety of content including puzzles and a game maker, as well as animations. All coding is done without the use of words.

6) Cue and Dash are robots available through Wonder Workshop. Cue is for students (ages 11+) and Dash, a voice-activated robot, is for use with younger students (K to fifth grade). Dash can be programmed using the Wonder or Blockly apps, which gives students more ways to learn about coding through observations of how the robots respond and interact with their surroundings.

7) Hopscotch is an app (iPad/iPhone) that enables students (ages eight to 14 plus) to learn about coding by creating a game, changing a drawing into an animation, or exploring the projects that have been shared to the gallery. Hopscotch offers a free account for teachers.

8) Lego Coding Express and Lego SPIKE offer complete packages for teaching students about STEAM and coding. Coding Express is for children (age two and up) to learn about coding through play with a train set. Lego Spike, for grades six through eight, helps students to develop coding and STEAM skills through the use of Lego blocks and Scratch coding language.

9) littleBits offers a lot of options for getting students (grades three and up) started with coding and computational thinking. There are scaffolded lessons, tutorials and more than 100 activities available for educators to explore for the classroom. Expansion packs for technology (grades six to eight) and computer science (grades three to five) are available for building programming and engineering skills in the classroom.

10) Made with Code provided through Google, began as a way to encourage more girls to get started with coding. Students can explore the projects and get started right away by creating their own or solving some of the challenges.

11) Micro:bit is a programmable microcomputer that can be used for programming robots, musical instruments and more. Coding can be done through a web browser with Scratch, Python, Javascript, Blocks or the MakeCode editor. Students can also explore the coding challenges and activities available.

12) Ozobots are coding robots, Evo and Bit, that help students learn to code using either colors (ages six and up) or OzoBlockly. Color codes simply require markers or the stickers, and robots can be coded to change direction, move on a timer, speed up or slow down and more. OzoBlockly is a visual programming language that functions by drag and drop and allows you to create a block-based program to load onto your Ozobot.

13) Robotix offers different products for students to explore coding using their Robobricks (ages four to nine), Taco Playbits (ages three and up), Phiro Unplugged (ages four to eight), and Phiro Pro (ages nine and up). Each of these options teaches students about coding, robotics and STEM. Phiro uses Swish cards, which teach students about binary coding and they are also Lego and Arduino compatible.

14) Scratch Jr. is a free coding app available for children (ages five to seven). Through Scratch Jr., children can create projects or make their own games to build their coding skills as well as problem-solving skills.

15) Sprite Box Coding, available on iOs and Android, can be used in grades one through six to teach students through a block-based coding platform. Students work through challenges to build coding skills.

16) Swift Playgrounds is an app for iPads and Mac that does not require any prior coding knowledge. Students (grades four through 12) learn about Swift by using code to solve puzzles in a game-like environment.

17) Tynker is a coding platform that provides activities for different age groups through Tynker Jr (picture and block coding), Tynker (Block and Swift coding) and Mod Creator (for Minecraft add-ons). Tynker offers self-paced online courses and a curriculum package for schools. There are more than 40 block and text-based courses and over 3,700 learning modules.

18) Unruly Splats promotes more active learning by mixing coding with movement in the classroom. Students (grades one through seven) use the coding app to program splats by writing rules that tell the splats to light up or make sounds when stepped on. The splats are iPad and Chromebook compatible.

For more ideas and resources, check out the Code.org site which offers free activities and lessons for students to explore. There are more than 70 million projects created and many options for students to create their own projects. Simply start with one of these options and take time to gather some feedback from students, and learn right along with them!

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