So, what skill can help prepare students for the future and can also be part of almost any curriculum? Several answers might fit, but for this blog post, we are going to focus on coding. Coding is an essential skill. It's a skill that almost guarantees a job. It's a skill that nearly every modern business needs, and if you look at the five big companies of tech's job boards it becomes super evident. All of them have hundreds of engineering jobs that remain open because they can't find the folks who have the skills.
This post is going to be one of a couple of posts. Coding is just like learning a foreign language. It becomes easier the younger you start, and if that's the case, why not start with pre-readers! Yes, you read that right. You can start coding with kids as little as pre-school.
If so, how do we do that? It all starts with the coding concept of putting in a digital input and getting out a digital output. For pre-readers, that goes down two paths: drawing lines or punching in arrow combinations. Both hit on the concept that a user inputs some commands to get an electronic response. Thankfully, there are significant tools for both!
The Top 5 Coding Options for Pre-Readers
1. Dash Robots (makewonder.com)
Unlike some other robotics companies, Wonder Workshop is the one that is focused on education and computer science. They are also the only coding robot in my mind that is a complete thought. They hit the pre-reader category all through their companion app Path, but there is also more coming on that front.
Dash is a Blue robot built on what looks like three circular module constructed together with another circular module on top. The module on top has an eye that gives the robot life by making it a character! Dash has a load of sensors within it that make it responsive, it has sound, and it has several apps that allow you to control all of its character and movements through joysticks, linear coding, and block coding.
It's the linear coding that makes it a standout robot for pre-readers, and that all happens through the Path app. Path allows users to draw lines to make the robot go, and then they can drag specific effects icons into the track to make the robot respond. This gives kids practice both inputting a command and having an electronic output as well as adding other commands that can then help them transition to block coding.
2. BeeBots (bee-bot.us)
There are several different versions of coding robots out there that work on arrow commands, but my favorite is the Bee-Bots. They are a bit more expensive than ones like the Blue Mouse, but the hassle of changing batteries in those compared to the Bee-Bots rechargeable battery makes the Bee-Bots worth it.
Bee-Bots very simply are little robots shaped like a bee with arrows at the top. Pre-Readers simply punch in the commands and hit go. The Bee-Bot then will follow whatever commands the student has punched in.
The power of these comes from what you can put under them. You can have tracks, mats, number lines, and a host of other learning materials that can make pre-reader learning content standout. They are also helping kids learn coding concepts by having them input a command and then watching the Bee-Bot do it. To prepare them for block coding, have them string a couple of commands together.
3. Kodable (kodable.com)
Getting software right for pre-readers to learn coding is not easy. It's much easier to hold their interest when there is a tangible way for a child to play. The software also has to be the right combination of learning activity and child-friendly, which can be a hard mix to achieve. There are tons of coding sites out there, but to me, it seems the only software site to get it right is Kodable.
Kodable is a level based directional coding site that asks kids to get what amounts to a cute furball through a course. Kids complete the task by putting the right combination of arrows in to tell the little furball which way to move. It teaches kids coding through the input of commands and having to solve if you made a mistake.
4. Osmo Coding (playosmo.com)
There are two Osmo coding sets, and for pre-readers, I like Coding a little better than Coding Jam. Osmo plays right into using tangible play for pre-readers to learn, and Osmo Coding can even become the first step to the next level of block coding.
The Osmo is a stand for an Ipad with a piece that goes over the Ipad's front-facing camera. That piece reflects whatever you do in front of the stand on a table to the camera. The Ipad then gives you feedback on what you are doing.
Coding uses little bricks to input actions that tell the character of Awbie where to move on the screen. The goal is for Awbie to both finish the level and get as many strawberries as possible. Most of the bricks correspond to some time of movement (like a walking step or jump step, have arrows to tell Awbie the direction to go, and can be completed multiple times based on adding a number to the brick.
This is great for pre-readers because once you give them a small tutorial, they should be able to get Awbie moving quickly. All the bricks are pictures and arrows, so there is no reading required, but by doing this they are learning some the principals of block coding that will let them move to the next level.
5. No Tech
One of the most significant concepts of coding is putting in some command input and getting some command output. For a pre-reader to learn this idea, they don't necessarily need technology. You can do it with just people!
The idea is to make an obstacle course. Then you blindfold one student. Another student then becomes there programmer as they verbally say commands to get them through the obstacle course. They input the arrow commands by merely verbalizing them! It's the first step in coding, and sometimes we just don't have the technology to make it happen!