Board Games for Young Coders: Bits&Bites and Robot Turtles

Bits and Bytes and Robot Turtles GamesI recently purchased two board and card games, Bits and Bytes and Robot Turtles, to teach programming to children. I have now tested them in the classroom and at home with my 10 and 13-year-old kids. The family test group was a bit overaged and overqualified;  The teenager, an avid coder and a former Lego man, found these games far too easy. The 10-year-old beginner of programming seemed to enjoy playing and quickly understood the instructions of the games.

Out of all the groups I’ve played these games with, the primary school-aged kids from Grades 1 to 3 have most appreciated them.  They’ve grasped the rules of the game quickly and learned some basic concepts of coding such as algorithm, program and sequence along the play.

Robot Turtles is suitable for young players starting from age four. The aim is to guide your turtle home avoiding obstacles on the way. The basic gameplay is simple and it’s easy to add levels, introduce obstacles and functions, into the game. This game is very logical and instructions are clear. The format is pleasant with a nicely illustrated board and colorful play cards.

In Bits&Bytes your goal is to get your player, Bit, Byte, Data or Perl,  to the safe haven without being caught by the bugs or the CPU. Your player might also be hindered by the walls and therefore obliged to find an alternative route home. You have two options for the gameplay; in the basic game, you guide your player through the grid by issuing commands with the instruction cards. Advanced rules introduce functions and teach children conditional statements and loops. I had difficulties to understand what to do in Bits&Bytes first but eventually got it after being reminded of overthinking. This game does not have a board, but the cards should be distributed on the table or floor in a grid format.

Both games are definitely a great addition to a coding class in the pre and primary school when practicing sequences and basic algorithms.

To the Winter Hoods with the Migrating Birds

kivetSummer faded into autumn as August came to an end. We, summer residents in Finland, returned to our winter hoods with the migrating birds. Darkening nights, chilly northern wind and coloring leaves of birch trees were the first signs of nature hinting it’s time to go. I’m sad to leave the family behind but thrilled of the new beginnings in September; a new academic year starting for the children and exciting professional challenges for us parents.

paris-640_mediumIn France, it’s the time of the rentrée; the schools begin the first week of September, and Parisian streets fill with cars and people. It’s inspiring to exchange summer experiences with the friends who have returned from their corners of the world; to discover what they have seen, heard, read and learned.

A friend who spent her summer in the Silicon Valley told me about “fashioneering” – a discipline where fashion meets engineering. Maybe wearable computers and electronics built into clothing could inspire girls to code. Imagine jewelry that you could program to fit your outfit or a handbag with touch sensors and a siren to keep intruders away.

It’s time to share our dazzling adventures with the friends because those great summer ventures might encourage us all to try something new this fall.

How Wonderful, It Rains! – It’s Time to Focus on Work

Start of the academic year is like an annual new beginning; children transition to a new grade and we adults have a chance to start something fresh and exciting: a hobby, a degree or a different manner of working. The rainy days of August are just perfect for plunging into the planning of the new season; I’m exhilarated to tackle the latest coding tasks and teaching assignments starting in September. I hope you are too!

This fall is about teaching and learning about computational thinking without screens; demonstrating unplugged coding activities to transfer the skills and concepts of computer science to the pre and primary school students. Luckily, plenty of printed and online resources offer suitable, age-appropriate activities for young children as well as tools for parents and educators alike.

helloruby-640_medium1-e1534255570236.jpgMy personal favorite for the unplugged classroom activities is Hello Ruby, the world’s most whimsical way to learn about technology, computing, and coding, as described on Hello Ruby’s website. Originally a book, created by Linda Liukas, now a series of them translated in more than 20 languages, aims to create, promote and evaluate exceptional educational content on computational thinking for 4 -to 10-year-olds. Playful activities can be downloaded from the website and complement Ruby’s adventures in coding, her journey inside the computer and expedition to the Internet. Hello Ruby also provides classroom resources for educators.

Code.org – Hour of Code supplies language independent unplugged activities for all grade levels from pre-readers onwards. Any educator is encouraged to teach the fundamentals of computer science, whether they have computers in the classroom or not. These lessons may be used as a stand-alone course or as complementary lessons for any computer science course.

Pre and primary school teachers are well-equipped to use the above mentioned age-appropriate exercises and innovate more because they regularly use hands-on manipulatives, games, songs and stories in teaching content to their students. These very activities can be useful in engaging young children in developing computational thinking skills such as algorithmic thinking, decomposition, abstraction or pattern recognition. Asking children to work with partners or in groups develops behaviors for working with others and dealing with frustration. Nurturing communication, cooperation, and empathy are maybe even more important skills than learning to code at an early age.

 

Put that Learning into Practice

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Learning something is somewhat comfortable, but putting it into practice is the tricky part. We have an extraordinary ability to grasp new knowledge, but it’s not until we implement the learning that it becomes a real skill. We need to activate the potential by creating something useful, practical and/or beautiful that showcases the accumulated information in practice.

A new language, for example, is of no use, if you don’t read in it or communicate in speaking or writing. The same applies to computer skills: your knowledge of JavaScript or Python will only be tested when you create a new web application.

Project-based learning provides a solution. You gain content knowledge and accumulate critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills by carrying out a meaningful real-life project. For example, when I learned front-end web development, it was only the first big project, Neighbourhood map, that tested if I had actually understood all the online lectures I had listened over the past few months.

There are dozens of online courses teaching web development, but I personally favor the Nanodegree programs of Udacity because they are project-based and community oriented. Udacity provides excellent forums for asking questions from peers and mentors alike. Students work on different projects over an extended period of time – from a week up to a few months. They are engaged in creating apps with varying complexity and therefore get to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a product for the web or app store. Over the course of project development, and especially when you feel like giving up, the community is there to support you.

Screen capture of a Cafe and co-work appThe Udacity Nanodegree programs don’t only require us, students, to implement the skills we have acquired but at the same time provide us with the portfolio projects demanded when applying to jobs. These projects also serve as references for future work. The code has been reviewed and is, therefore, according to industry standards.

Putting knowledge into practice should be a requirement for all educational bodies. I might have become a mechanical engineer had the formulas of rotational motion been demonstrated in the real-life projects at the high school physics class!