7 Things to Know About Coding in the Early Childhood Classroom

Children as young as four can start coding, but not in ways you might think. Today, Dr. Marina Umashchi Bers from Tufts University discusses her research findings about what works (and doesn’t) with young children in the classroom. You’ll get creative ideas for hands-on programming that works for early childhood.

Today’s sponsor: Metaverse is a free simple augmented reality tool. Students can program. You can also use and create breakout educational experiences. See coolcatteacher.com/ar or download the Metaverse app today.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

Coding in the Early Childhood Classroom

Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e202
Date: Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Vicki: Today we’re talking to Dr. Marina Umaschi Bers @marinabers from Tufts University, where she is Director of the Dev Tech Research Group.

We’re going to talk about coding in the early childhood classroom.

#1 – How do you define “coding?”

Now, Marina, how would you define “coding” because obviously, we’re not going to have them write long lines of code, right?

Marina: Right! So coding is a new fancy word for computer programming. But it’s not just about computers today. Today the world is full of SMART objects. These are objects that respond to stimulus in the world.

For example, if you have a faucet in the bathroom that has a sensor, and you put in your hands, water comes out. So those SMART objects “know” when there is the need to dispense water. That’s just an example of one of the SMART objects that we have all around us.

Those SMART objects were programmed (or coded) by someone. So when we are talking about coding, it is something young children understand. Objects are not “magic,” but that they have been programmed. They have been coded. And they (need to) understand how it works.

#2 – Students today are surrounded by SMART objects. These are not “magic.”

Vicki: What kinds of things can children do in early childhood? And what ages would you start coding?

Marina: All of our work starts in early childhood at four years old. When we talk early childhood, we talk 4-7 years old. We work with robotics, because robotics are tools that allow them to learn coding and to learn abstract logic and thinking while not sitting in front of a computer screen. So robots have motors, they have sensors, they can move around.

The particular robots we have developed in my Dev Tech Research Group at Tufts are called Kibo. The allow you to program them with wooden blocks. So coding happens without screens, without keyboards — just by putting together sequences of wooden blocks.

#3 – Coding happens without screens, without keyboards. Just sequences of wooden blocks.

Each block represents a command for the robot. For example “Move Forward” or “Move Backward” or “Turn the Red Light On” or “Turn the Blue Light On” or “Sing” response to a sound. The children put together all of these blocks in a sequence. The robot has a scanner, and the blocks are barcodes, so they scan one by one.

Once they are done with the scanning, they press the little button, and the robot comes alive. It will perform whatever sequence of action the child has programmed.

What’s even more interesting is that the robots all look different, like in a classroom all children look different. They learn differently, and they do things differently. So same as with a robot. These robots are designed to have an art platform, so children can integrate them with recyclables, with art projects, and dress up these robots in many different ways.

Vicki: That sounds like so much fun!

Now, why do you think that early childhood is the time to start coding?

Marina: In early childhood is when we start learning how to read and write, the time when we develop our literacy.

I believe that coding is the literacy of the 21st century, in terms that it will allow us to think in new ways, to solve problems that we never encountered before, and to open our world to new projects and new solutions that we don’t even know we need.

#4 Coding is the literacy of the 21st century.

And so when do we start literacy? We start in January. We start literacy when kids are young and curious and open. The same is true for coding. We should start when all literacies start.

There’s another point of why we start in early childhood, and the stereotypes about gender are not so strongly formed yet. So we really are talking about young kids who are open and curious about the world around them.

If kids wait until they’re older, they start thinking, “Well, I’m not good in math, science, engineering. This is not for me.” In all our research we found that if we start early on, everyone gets excited.

Vicki: There are so many apps and things out there that people say are for early childhood. And sometimes I look at them, and I say, “Oh my goodness…”

What are the common mistakes that people are making with trying to teach coding for early childhood?

#5 Let Kids Play and Learn in the Playground versus Playpen

Marina: I coined a metaphor. I called it “Playground versus Playpen.”

A coding environment is like a language. It’s a programming language. Just like any natural language — English or Spanish — it allows you to express yourself, to create any project you want, to do anything you want, really. It’s open-ended. It allows and brings creativity. And that’s like a playground.

Especially when you bring in robotics, creativity happens also in the physical world, because they’re interacting with objects. They’re interacting with each other, not by looking at a screen.

So if you think of the activities that happen on the playground, and you compare those to the activities that happen in the playpen… A playpen is very limited. You can do one thing, over and over. The adult is in charge, and it gets a little bit boring if you use it over time.

That’s very different from a programming language. So I would say, how to choose? Use the playground versus playpen metaphor when we’re encountering technologies for early childhood.

I would say that most of them fall in the playpen category. The playpen types of technologies are safe — that’s what a playpen is good for, it’s a safe environment. But that doesn’t really promote collaboration or an open-ended and creative imagination like a playground does.

Vicki: And Marina, from what I’ve read about young children and technology, the tactile piece is so important because so many adults don’t seem to understand the virtual world in an iPad or in an iPhone or whatever. How important do you think this whole tactile — having objects to use to program — is, in the grand scheme of coding with early childhood?

#6 How important is the tactile piece when it comes to technology?

Marina: I think it’s really important. We know that children learn about the world by interacting with it, and so the more objects and the more different textures and aesthetically more colors and forms and shapes — that we can expose them to, the better it is.

Nowadays, we do have technologies that allow us to program with tangible objects and tangible blocks. That wasn’t possible in the seventies, when people started to think about programming with children. But nowadays, we can. So we really should be thinking about what the best approaches are to bring coding skills to children.

Vicki: So, Marina, we have a lot of kindergarten teachers who listen to the show.

What is your message to them, because so many of them feel overwhelmed. Many of them feel like they have been over-standardized in the past with so many things.

What is the best way to bring coding into their kindergarten classrooms without feeling overwhelmed?

#7 How can I bring coding into my classroom without feeling overwhelmed?

Marina: There are two things I would say.

First, use the playground approach. Observe children on the playground. All of us know what good play is, and the possibilities of play. Try to bring a playfulness into coding.

The second one is integrate. Coding doesn’t need to be separate, and at a different time. Try to integrate into math, into science, into social studies, into language. Find a project that you really love to teach, and try to integrate coding into that project.

Vicki: So many fantastic ideas!

You know, we’ve had so many guests who’ve really proven to us that young children can do so many more things than we think they can, sometimes.

Build that remarkable early childhood program — and include coding!

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted

Dr. Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University (http://ase.tufts.edu/devtech/). She also heads the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group at the University. She is also Co-Founder and Chief Scientist at KinderLab Robotics.

Blog: Marina Umaschi Bers, PhD

Twitter: @marinabers

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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1 comment

krishi December 6, 2017 - 12:39 am

Hello there!! All point you mentioned is very perkful. Thanks for sharing


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