On Thursday May 15, I entered Kirsten Grubes’s room at Cattaraugus Little Valley school. Ms. Grube had a substitute and since I was entering a kindergarten classroom we had to forgo any introductions and attempt to match the activity level of about 14 six year olds. I never did get the name of the substitute.
As a helper at one of the centers, I teach students the fundamentals of programming using the app called Kodable. At the kindergarten level, Kodable requires students to follow directions, which is good but even this can be a bit of a struggle with this age group. I know this because I am pretty sure Kyle was not supposed to march around the room, growling like a monster while gently banging his crayon box on top of his head. Oh well, we won’t tell Ms. Grube.
These students get so excited when they see me enter the room with iPads. I often hear “He’s here. He’s here,” upon entering. With Kodable students have to make their “Smeeborg,” which I call a fuzzball, move across the screen and eat coins. Grechen Huebner, co-founder of Kodable, describes the game like this, "Kids have to drag and drop symbols to get their fuzzy character to go through a maze so they learn about conditions, loops and functions and even debugging," The code is read in order and it does not execute until the student pushes the play button. If the student has the code correct, he or she gets all the coins, completes the maze and goes on to the next level. If the student is “off the mark” then the student is prompted with an “oops” and asked to try again. Students are learning a great deal of valuable skills
We have just been using the free Kodable app but there is a pay version, which is $6.99. It seems like, as of now, the free version is working just fine. It may be necessary for the pay app someday, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. For schools who want to buy the app and are part of Apple’s volume purchasing program (v.p.p.), if the school district buys 20 or more apps then they get them for half price. And now, with how the v.p.p. is set up, the school district owns the app and can deploy it to different iPads anywhere in the school, as long as they don’t use more than what was purchased.
Many of these students can’t tie their shoes yet so why are we teaching them to be computer programmers? "Ninety percent of schools just don't even teach it [coding or computer programming]. So if you're a parent and your school doesn't even offer this class, your kids aren't going to have the preparation they need for the 21st century," says Hadi Partovi, co-founder of the nonprofit Code.org. "Just like we teach how electricity works and biology basics, they should also know how the Internet works and how apps work. Schools need to add this to the curriculum." At Cattaraugus Little Valley we are taking some initial steps in adding these important computing skills into the curriculum.
By Rick Weinberg, CA BOCES