How to Teach Kids Coding Principles by Acting Out the Process - dummies

How to Teach Kids Coding Principles by Acting Out the Process

By Camille McCue, Sarah Guthals

Too many times, people dive into a project by focusing on the details before mapping out the big picture. Coding is no different. It’s helpful for kids to take a step back and see the whole picture before diving into coding.

Thinking about coding in terms of typing commands on a computer without stepping back to consider the big picture of what you want the program to do is a recipe for disaster. Plan before you code!

Dramatizing a noncoding process before coding

One way of understanding the big picture of a computer program is to act it out, without any computer at all. Invite your young coder to try acting out an everyday activity that is not computer related.

One possibility is dramatizing the process of washing socks (as if asking a kid to wash her own socks wouldn’t be drama enough!). For example:

  1. Ask your young coder to take off her socks (or dig them out of the laundry basket!).
  2. Put the socks in the washing machine and pretend to wash them.
  3. Take them out of the wash and move them to the dryer where you pretend to dry them.
  4. Remove the socks from the dryer (all clean and dry!) and ask her to put them on her feet.

Although you call this process “doing laundry” or “washing socks,” you can have her act it out so that she can see the process actually involves more steps.

“Drive to the intersection and turn right” is an example of a similar task you may perform when writing code for a car race video game. Although this single phrase describes the big picture, you need to drill down to more specific steps in order to accomplish the bigger task. For example, you need to move forwards 150 pixels and then make a square turn (also called a 90 degree turn) to the right (or to the left). When coding these actions in a programming language, you can use a sequence of commands that looks something like forward 150 right turn 90.

Acting out a big picture doesn’t have to involve props, but it’s often helpful to use them with new programmers. Making concrete connections to everyday objects and processes can help your kid form a mental model that she can refer to when she writes a computer program.

Walking through some daily tasks to prep for coding

You can step through a number of daily tasks to help a young learner grasp the concept of process. Brainstorm a list of everyday processes with your child and then ask him to demonstrate the big picture of each process. Here are some you can try:

  • Get up in the morning.
    1. Alarm clock rings.
    2. Wake up.
    3. Swing legs over the side of bed.
    4. Stand up.
  • Feed the dog.
    1. Call the dog.
    2. Scoop the dog food from the bag.
    3. Place food in the bowl.
  • Perform a cannonball.
    1. Stand at the edge of the pool with arms outstretched.
    2. Leap up and out over the water while tucking legs into your chest.
    3. Hit the water, tushie first.
    4. Cheer with joy as displaced water booms into the air, splattering everyone in a 3-meter radius.
  • Make a smoothie.
    1. Gather the fruit.
    2. Put fruit into the blender.
    3. Add ice.
    4. Mix.
    5. Pour into a glass.

Get creative and see how many processes you can act out! Remember, you don’t have to actually use the real materials to act out a process. As in charades, you can use your imagination!