Our guest blogger today is elementary librarian Allyssa Loya, who teaches in the Rockwall (Texas) ISD. A true technology enthusiast, she is also the author of Lerner’s new series Disney Coding Adventures. On Monday, September 24, she presented a fantastic SLJ-hosted webinar called No Fear Coding: How to Start a Coding Club and Why It Matters. You can listen to the webinar here, and downloadable handouts from the webinar are available here.
At the end of her presentation, Allyssa answered audience questions, but she wasn’t able to tackle them all. Here she responds to the remaining questions from listeners. Feel free to add your coding club advice and suggestions in the comments. *Note: Comments are moderated, so there may be a delay in posting.
I am new coding; is there a good website where I can get started? Eddie H.
AL: If you are looking for an easy website to introduce kids to, I would recommend Hour of Code. It’s a great place to get students started and to ease you into coding concepts. CodeSpark is also amazing! It’s free for educators and has so many lessons with explanations and resources. It’s a great place to start if you need help. Other coding websites I’d recommend include Kahn Academy, Google CS, and Code Combat (the free version is awesome).
What age group is best for using Scratch? Colleen P.
AL: In my experience, Scratch can be utilized the best by 4th grade and up. Younger students can use it, but it will be a little more difficult for them. But there is an app called Scratch Jr. that is perfect for the younger ones! You can get it on almost any device, and you can even download it onto desktops from the Chrome App Store.
Can you tell us more about the robots you used? Jane S.
What devices do you use and how did you get them? Imani M.
What website do you use or where do you get the robots for the coding club? Raihannah S.
AL: Robot Mouse and Bee-Bot are two mini robots. You lay out the code ahead of time with arrows and then click the arrows on top of the devices to code them. Robot Mouse comes with its own board set that you can run him through a maze to get cheese. Bee-Bot comes with a mat. I have Code-a-pillar for the little kids; it’s a good way to get them started. I love the board game Code Master; it’s made for one person, but if you prop up a divider, multiple kids can play at once without looking at each other’s answers. It’s a good introduction to get them to start thinking in order and talking about lines of code and algorithms.
For older kids, devices like the Ollie or the Sphero, which use drag-and-drop coding on a computer that has Bluetooth, would be good from middle through high school. The Finch robot has to be plugged into the computer (it’s not Bluetooth), but it starts basic with arrows which could be done with first graders and then progresses to more robust coding all the way up to high school. You can type out language programmable instructions. Also Raspberry Pi and Arduino—they’re like little motherboards that you program and then you can do circuit work with an electronics breadboard.
Do you know anything about Ozoblockly and the Ozobot? Jane O.
AL: I have an old Ozobot that I got before you could program them with code. It is one that uses the color code system on paper. I wasn’t a fan of them because I couldn’t see what students were actually learning from the color coding system. But the new ones with drag-and-drop coding capabilities seem promising.
Have you ever considered Lego Mindstorms? Joe O.
AL: I have, but I have been hesitant due to time constraints. It seems like it would take a while to build the items before coding. With limited time, I would rather have something where we can quickly begin coding. It may be awesome, though, and I’m just missing out!
Where can we see the Top Skills Required for Jobs in 2020 list [that you mentioned in your slides]? Laurie D.
Do you have a completely flexible schedule, or are you on a special area rotation as well? Colleen A.
AL: I am lucky enough to have a completely flexible schedule. I do have PK-2nd come on a weekly basis (on the understanding that other classes may bump them if I need to plan a lesson or research with them). The older students are allowed to checkout at any point in the day.
What are your five tables for Makerspaces? Monica F.
AL: They are not always the same, but my main stations are Problem solving (this is usually with items like paper, tape, popsicle sticks, etc.), Circuits, Coding, Building, and “Learn through Play.” (I take liberties with this last one: it includes marble mazes, Bloxels, games, etc.) The makerspace Items I use on a regular basis include:
- Cheap/Easy items – paper, tape, cardboard, paperclips, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, etc.
- Keva Planks
- Little Bits and Little Bits Coding*
- Snap Circuits
- Robot Mouse*
- Hour of Code on Chromebooks*
- Soundation music on Chromebooks
- Straws and Connectors
- Marble Roller Coasters
- Code Master (board game)*
- Blokus (board game)
* Items I use in coding club as well.
- I started with “unplugged” activities and also used code.org. With Kano, you build a computer and program it. Imani M.
- Google CS First has free curriculum for older kids. Kohnee H.
- We also had success with Google CS First; we partner with a local college to provide more than one instructor and it’s very self-lead for the kids. Amy B.
- Last spring we offered our first coding club at a public library using Google CS First. Sharon M.
- Code Academy is a good resource for older kids—they have pre-loaded lessons to learn at your own pace. Michele L.
- In regards to asking for help, don’t overlook your local public library. I am the Technology Librarian at the local town library (with SLMS and maker experience). This is the second year that I’ve partnered with a school librarian to run an after-school club. It’s great to have time with her to share ideas and have access to that population. I would only be able to reach this population at the public library with an after-dinner or Sat. program. It’s been a great partnership for us and we pool our resources. Laura L.
Allyssa Loya is an elementary school librarian in North Texas. Her passion for bringing meaningful learning to students led her to cultivate a technology-forward library that includes a makerspace and coding club. She loves sharing her knowledge with her peers and presents on topics that impact future-ready libraries.
For a little more on Allyssa, check out her author spotlight!