STEM in Primary

STEM in Primary
A blog for those interested in primary school STEM education

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Resources to teach kids to code

Stuff this week - Resources to teach kids to code

Last week I made the case for the need for kids to develop the skill of computational thinking through learning how to write software or "code". I hear you asking what can I do to give my kids the opportunity to get into it?

Firstly the Australian Curriculum has a subject called Digital Technologies which in part requires that kids be taught how to code. So in theory our kids will get the needed skills in school. However, at present, theory and practice are a long way apart. This is because the teachers have generally received no training themselves. Whilst state governments are providing some funding these programs are in their infancy and for those in the private system your school probably has to sort this out for themselves.

So schools will take a while to get fully into gear but what to do if you would like to give your kids some exposure now or maybe your child has a real interest in making a computer do stuff! Well you are actually spoiled for choice. There is a great array of free and paid programs online and a bunch of "toys" specifically designed to teach kids how to code. Knowing what is good and what is not so good is a challenge so I hope to make it easy and provide a list of what I have found to be the best on offer after experimenting on my kids. (They haven't tried everything though!)

Before I make a list I should start by pointing everyone to This organisation is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Their vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. They do that by producing and providing a FREE series of fantastic coding courses. This site should probably be your first stop. also organises an annual global event called "The Hour of Code" in which tens of MILLIONS of kids around the world do at least one hour of code during one week in December.

However one limitation with is that you have to be able to read and as they say you are never too young to learn.  For the pre-readers there are a couple of excellent apps that introduce the coding concepts. Lightbot is a puzzle game that requires kids to light up tiles on a 3D grid by using sequenced steps and identifying patterns. The difficulty does ramp up quickly so for the youngest I recommend you just get the free hour of code version initially. Kodable is another puzzle game which also teaches the basics of coding. It is free to download and you get to play about half of the first level. If you like it then you can purchase to unlock more content.I really like the first world of Kodable (Smeeborg) as it teaches a wide range of skills however I did find the later worlds a little more abstract and I need to look at that further to see if I there is value there.

For the early readers my kids liked another app called Tynker. The app is relatively inexpensive with a couple of free levels. The majority of their content is online which requires an annual subscription. My 8 year old daughter enjoys the online challenges although starting out I would recommend sticking with Having said that Tynker does have an series of lessons which integrate with Minecraft so if you have a child mildly addicted to that and you would like them to get something more educational out of it then this might be an option worth looking into.

In terms of physical toys that will teach kids to code I like Dash and Dot. They aren't cheap but with a wide array of sensors and multiple ways to be programmed they should last quite a few years of coding progression.

As kids progress and show an interest you can't go past Scratch. This is the most popular online graphical programming language and its FREE! There are innumerable books which can be used to learn from or just see what others have done and learn by osmosis! It is more powerful than possibly many give it credit for.

If you use a Raspberry Pi as the platform for Scratch then the possibilities are opened up for controlling lights and motors.The Raspberry Pi also supports other programming environments such as Python and for those musically inclined SonicPi.

Robots from the Makeblock company can be programmed in Scratch and provide a logical next step for those that want to add a design element to the coding problem. MakeBlock has a wide range of robots to fit most budgets. They have also recently released a pink version of their smallest robot (which is a great cheaper alternative to Dash and Dot) in a bid to appeal to more girls. Of course no mention of robots would be complete without mentioning Lego. The WeDo 2.0 and Mindstorms kits provide a solid platform for learning the basics of coding as well as covering the engineering design elements as well.
What you should see your kids learning is the ability to break a problem down into steps, to see patterns that they can exploit to simplify the code and a drive to solve the problem even when it doesn't work the first (or tenth!) time.

All of the resources above will likely keep most kids satisfied for years but there is plenty more available to challenge those that are keen. I will cover those in a later blog. For those that would prefer to not self-teach then keep an eye on the Stuff To Do section below for those in Brisbane or search for coding classes in your area.

Have you found any other coding courses or toys that your kids love and are getting great results from?

Stuff in the news

Specialist tech and science teachers to be introduced in NSW schools
Australian schools continue to fall behind other countries in maths and science
Google Launches Project Bloks a new toy to teach kids how to code.

CES 2017, the annual technology trade show in Las Vegas, emphasised how ubiquitous robots and artificially intelligent devices will become integrated into our lives over the next decade

Stuff to buy

Dash and Dot - The most engaging pair of robots you are likely to meet, developed specifically to teach kids how to code
Raspberry Pi - Many have tried to copy it but this is still the king. Again developed specially to get kids back into coding (as they did in the 80s!). 
Makeblock Robots - An open source construction platform that turns your ideas into reality. Can be programmed with Scratch
Lego Mindstorms EV3 - More expensive than Makeblock but Lego has broad appeal and for schools there is the option to get into the First Lego League competition.
Lego WeDo 2.0 - Another Lego product is the WeDo 2.0 set. This is targeted at primary school aged kids and is considerably cheaper than Mindstorms. It offers a great range of set and open ended learning opportunities.
*At this point in time I earn no money from any product I list and I am not affiliated with any other company.

Stuff in education

This article refers to secondary school but I think is equally applicable to primary.
Secondary schooling in Australia needs to change: throw out the tests and bring in deep learning
Increase student engagement with these 10 techniques.
Bring Excitement Into Any Lesson

Stuff to do in Brisbane

World Science Festival Brisbane - 22 - 26 March 2017. Dr Karl for Kids is a FREE event in the South Bank Piazza on 25 March.
The Cube at QUT has a number of changing programs. 
- - -
Flying Fox Studios - A studio offering programs in the arts, music and construction areas from babies to teenagers in Brisbane
Young Engineers Australia - Provides an engaging, hands-on learning platform using LEGO® and K’nex® assembly kits
CoderDojo - A volunteer run programming club

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