Teaching Kids to Code

Today I'm taking a bit of a break from my normal blog posts to tell you a little about a super fun STEM-themed Girl Scout meeting that I led a few weeks ago. When I surveyed my Daisy families for what "extras" they wanted to do this year, STEM won by a landslide. 

Which was totally fine by me!  I LOVE science, and I'm all about exposing kids--especially girls--to science-themed topics.  For most of my life I've seen computers as mysterious black boxes.   As a kid I certainly didn't see them as something that I could tinker with, let alone create with.

I hope that my kids see differently.  I want them to not be afraid to look inside a computer.  I want them to understand that it's not magic that makes computers work.  I want them to realize that the programs that they love so much were created by someone else.  I want them to see themselves as capable of coding and creating. 

I'm a life scientist, but I sometimes wonder if I'd happen to have found myself in a computer science class in my freshman year of college (or even high school!) if I'd have considered computer science as a potential major.  When I took my first computer science class much later on,  I realized that computer science was pretty cool!  I truthfully had had ZERO exposure before that class.  That won't be true for my kids! 

Today I'm going to share with you the approximately 1 hour lesson plan that I put together for a group of 1st grade Daisy Girl Scouts. I hope that others find it useful!  And if computer science isn't really your thing, you might still like the Daisy Girl Scout paper doll printable. The one thing that I really want to stress though is that you don't need to know computer science or software engineering to give young kids an introduction.  This post will have all you will need to know!

Lots of info ahead!  Keep reading for all the details!

First and foremost, I want to share with you some really awesome resources that I drew from for this lesson plan.  The first is Hello, Ruby.  This whimsical picture book gives kids an intro to computer science basics, but I feel like the real jewel is the great activities at the back.  I felt like the story was too long--and covered too many topics--for a single hour lesson, so instead I just used some of the activities.

The activities I did were variations off of the activities in the book.  I thought it was super clever to use paper dolls to illustrate some principles.  There's a great printable "Ruby" paper doll  on the website, but ultimately I decided to make my own.  It was important to me that the girls could color in the dolls themselves (as much like or unlike themselves as they wanted!)

 The other big resource that I used for my meeting was the Dash robot.  Now I don't own a Dash robot (although truthfully I am thinking of purchasing one).  I was able to check out this robot from my local library.  You'll need a mobile device to use the robot, but the kids really enjoyed creating their own programs to make the dash move, light up, and even respond to them! 

What I wanted the kids to get out of the meeting:
1) Computers are made of lots of little pieces.  They are built, kind of like building with Legos.  Each of the pieces of a computer are important for doing things. 
 2) Computers are really only useful if we tell them to do things.  We do this through programs. We have to give them very specific instructions, and if we don't the program doesn't work well.  Problems like this are called bugs.
3) Computer science is all about solving problems.  We do that breaking problems into a period of steps, which we call algorithms.
4). Computers can make decisions--called selections. Loops are used to make computers do the same things more than once. 

I started the meeting reading Rosie Revere, Engineer to the kids.  I thought this would be a good introduction to the concept of engineering, even though it's not about computers. Then I asked them what is a computer?  How is a computer made?  What's inside of a computer?

Then I showed them inside of one of my laptops.  I removed a memory card and let the kids look at it.  I was actually pretty surprised how much the kids liked this.  Some were quite shocked that I opened up a computer, and were even more shocked that I removed a piece.  I don't think most of my girls had ever seen inside of a computer (or thought about how they might work), so this was really important to demystify computers to them.  I pointed out a few different parts of the computer and their function, but I didn't really get into too much detail.

The next activity we did was to be "Flesh bots." I used poster board to make a series of commands.  The girls broke into groups of two.  One girl pretended to the be "flesh bot" while the other pretended to be the software engineer.  The software engineer put together a series of commands for the "flesh bot" to perform.
For the remaining time, I divided the class in half.  Half of my girls worked with the Dash Robot programing it. 

The other half worked on creating a "Dressing Bot."  I told the kids that they were going to design a robot that would help them get dressed in the morning.  I gave each girl a "kit" with a computer and a paper doll to color in and a blue folder to make the machine.  The computer printable I got from the Hello Ruby site.

 Then I explained them that by writing code, they'd be helping their dressing bot figure out what clothes to select for them. 

I encouraged them to write features of the dressing bot in the blue folder.  The kids came up with moveable arms (to help them put the clothes on over their heads), a thermometer to tell what the weather is like, and the ability to access their calendar (so it would know what activities were happening that day).
 The kids seemed to really like this activity.  Lu's been coming up with different features for her dressing bot for the last week!  She even used brads to connect moveable "arms" to the blue folder piece.  She also added on "computer pieces" and "gears" to show what was inside of her "Dressing bot." 

If you'd like the paper doll printable, you can find it here, or you can save it from the image below. 
I hope you enjoyed this look into our STEM meeting!  If you liked this post, you might like some of my other girl scout posts:

Courageous and Strong Petal Activities

 I did this STEM themed meeting for Girl Scouts: 

 Here is a free Kaper chart and other free printables for Girl Scouts.

Have a great week everyone!!




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