Sunday, May 21, 2017

Unplugged: Coding using Grids

Over the last term holidays, we were unlucky enough to have lightning strike near to our school during a storm. We lost large portions of our network switches and machines, and our technicians have really been superheroes in getting everything up and running in a couple of weeks. Due to this, I had to be flexible and rapidly adjust my curriculum plans. On the upside, it has given me precious time to investigate coding, both plugged and unplugged, with my students.

Unplugged: Coding using Grids

Thanks to some amazing folks on Twitter, I came across some great unplugged resources. I was participarly inspired by what teachers were doing with BeeBots. I don't have access to BeeBots, but, I do have access to masking tape and a floor!

My grids were rudimentary but they were a big hit.

Using a handful of small, wheeled toys that I picked up at a  local shop, I began to lead all of my students through a week of Unplugged content. Some of my students remembered the word algorithm from the sandwich robot activity that we had done previously. We talked about this unplugged coding being like a puzzle that they had to use rules to solve in order to achieve specific goals - like reaching a square marked as the school.

I led each class through some puzzles together, where they all took turns to move our car through the obstacles I had set out. I witnessed unbelievable patience from students as they waited to try out their code. We all wrote out our code on whiteboards, which was invaluable as I began to teach them about debugging their code and fixing mistakes they notice along the way.

Unplugged coding was not only embraced by the younger students. My oldest students loved it just as much. I was able to let them split off into smaller groups to debate how they were going to solve the puzzles. Some groups were even able to create challenges for each other to navigate through and race to see who could finish a puzzle in the least number of moves.

Many groups didn't want to stop at the end of the lesson and asked me to take photos of their coding grid so that they could carry on next time. One Grade 3 group wanted to continue playing into break! It was so refreshing to see these digital natives enjoy such an analogue concept. There were no screens, just cars and whiteboards and a set of rules. 


The students gained a solid understanding of what algorithms were, and how coding could be used to solve problems and puzzles. All of my students could create and debug simple programs using what we dubbed 'arrow code' on their whiteboards and some understood that shorter code was more efficient. For me, this unplugged week was the perfect introduction to coding using apps.

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