The Hour of Code, Unplugged

Since 2013, millions of students around the world participate in a week long challenge called the Hour of Code. The purpose of this challenge is to introduce students to the field of computer science and demonstrate how anyone can learn the basics of coding. The world of computer science is one that is growing heavily as advances in technology continue to expand. Educators are working to develop programs in schools to encourage STEM and STEAM related projects to prepare students for possible careers in the computer science arena.

At the American School Foundation of Monterrey (ASFM), grades 1-12 participated in the virtual world of coding through the Hour of Code website. Students coded characters in games such as Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen, while also exploring artistic shape making. When it came to nursery, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten we took on a different approach. We went for a second year of coding, unplugged.

Grounded with research and feedback from teachers in the early primary years, the tech integration team made the decision to limit screen time and keep the focus on coding and programming- rather than on a particular technological device. Based on past experiences with these students, the focus often turned to the physical device and not what was going on inside of it, and rightfully so- the are 3-6 year olds after all!

Two technology integration specialists entered 20 individual classrooms, for 15 minute increments. One dressed as herself and one dressed as a “robot.” A very brief and basic conversation was had about what coding means. The following points were made:

  • When we use an iPad we are telling the iPad what to do.
  • Before we open the iPad from the box, someone programmed it. They put things inside it to make it work the way it should- so when we push the buttons it operates how we want it to.
  • The person who makes the iPad do what it should is called a programmer.
  • Lots of items we use need to be programed, one of those items is a robot.

This is where the fun began. Students were told that this robot does not understand Spanish or English, it only understands code. The code it understands, is arrows. What this means is an arrow pointing up makes the robot take 1 step forward, an arrow pointed down makes it take 1 step back. If the the robot is shown an arrow to the left it moves 1 step to the left, and an arrow to the right will have it move 1 step to the right. Visual cues were provided with large arrows drawn on pieces of paper.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 12.54.47 PM

The robot was then “programmed,” being modeled by the tech integration specialists. It would move forward, backward, and side to side when being shown the correct symbols. Students were eager for their turn to program this robot. After a few students took their turns with the programing, the robot’s battery suddenly “died.” But luckily there was a new robot on hand- a smaller one ready to go. At this point in time a smaller robot helmet was given to a student, while a second student had the opportunity to program it. For some classes this activity had a steeper learning curve than others, nonetheless we witnessed complete engagement and awe throughout the brief 15 minute experience. Upon finishing the activity, we overheard many students asking their teachers if they could create robot helmets and arrows to use as a center during their school day- which we considered a success! As an added bonus, most students were able to articulate that the person who “tells a robot what to do” is called a programmer.

Being the second year of the unplugged routine, the tech integration team was able to reflect and fine tune a few steps- as we could anticipate the responses from nursery, pre-k, and kindergarten students. Overall, the experience was well received by both students and teachers- and is an endeavor we will continue to improve upon in the coming years.

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