What is Code?

What is Coding?

This isn’t the same “secret code” we wrote about in school. It isn’t a lock combination or set of letters for a document. This is actual 21st century coding! 

students coding, learning computer science
My students learn about computer science via coding on their computers.

I’m often asked, “What is coding?”  Coding is simply a combination of blocks or letter sequences that communicate digitally to perform an action.   When you think about ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in our world and how it operates, coding had to be done to get that sequence of events going.

Whether you are using your phone, watching tv, texting, using a microwave, operating apps, playing with toys and talking baby dolls . . . literally anything that has a computer chip, that is coding in action!

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Check out this video link: A Global View

I started learning coding WITH my students two years ago. I wasn’t sure how easy this would be, but I believe that if I waited to learn everything before teaching my students 21st century skills, my students would be graduating or worse . . . ready for retirement. LOL With these thoughts, it was important for me to learn alongside my brilliant kiddos, and THAT I did!!

Learning at ASTE

Every February (for the past two years), I have had the opportunity to attend an ASTE (Alaska Society for Technology in Education) conference. Here I sign up for classes to broaden my skills and knowledge about using technology in my classroom.

ASTE bag, computer science
ASTE is the local association (part of ISTE – International Society for Technology in Education).

I had heard about coding, but I wanted to know what this was about and how it is being used in the classroom. The teacher presenter brought some of her students to the class to show what they are doing with coding, to speak about the process, and share their thoughts. In the class, we had a chance to practice coding with the support of the teacher and her students.

After this presentation, I knew I had to jump right in and get my kiddos coding.  The teacher helped participants sign up for computer science materials through Google.  I didn’t know everything, but I knew I had just enough information to get started and was confident I could learn with my students.

coding, computer science
Here is an example of block coding. Different commands are linked together to perform a series of actions.

Upon returning from the conference, I ordered the curriculum (FREE by the way) that I could use to introduce this skill to my students. There were a variety of topics and levels, so I went with the beginner/easy coding level, but also ordered (Did I mention this is FREE?) a few additional beginner/easy levels and one intermediate level. I wanted to make certain I had my students ready to start, and ready to advance them to the next level when they were ready.

How to Get Started Coding

Using (Google Computer Science (CS First) was the perfect venue to begin coding. Once you go online and set up your account, you can order a few curriculum boxes.

Our first coding project: Name Animation Project

There are a variety of topics and levels for students of all ages and experience levels. Each CS First kit is shipped within a day. Literally, I ordered my kits, and I had them in 2 days – all the way to Alaska!

Our second coding project: Google Logo

Each kit contains ALL the materials you need for a class of 30 students: booklets, stickers, welcome info). However, if you don’t want to wait for speedy delivery, you can download the PDFs and print off all materials for your students.

Once I had my kit, I provided direct instruction to set up the CS First accounts, shared with the students a video about coding, and then passed out their booklets. The kids immediately entered their account, began reading the instructions in the booklet and started coding. It was fun to listen to their excitement and watch them offer support for each other. Students spent a good 45 minutes coding – which engaged problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and revising!!!

Once students completed a section, they would see me and I would award a sticker for their booklet. Stickers are very motivating for elementary students to monitor their progress and success. Then they were off to learn more coding in the next section. The tutorials support students and the hands on work allows them to practice the new skills. As students continued working, I was able to share their project with peers. The students enjoyed seeing their work on the “big screen”, and answered questions peers had about their project.

Later, it was time to wrap up our day. When students asked to take their booklets home to continue coding, I knew this was a WIN! My kiddos have been coding for the past two years going from beginner to advanced, and are ready to begin developing apps. THIS is EXCITING!!!

Learn more about the future of our classrooms.

Learn More about Coding!

There are additional websites for coding. Check out the links below for more information and other options to get your kids coding!

Code – A great resource with how to tutorials for beginning coders.

Girls Who Code – This is a fabulous organization that promotes coding clubs in schools, groups, or community areas. The focus is to provide more opportunities for girls to engage in science, technology, and engineering, since there is a shortage of girls in these career fields.

Teaching Coding to Kids – Another fabulous resource to get kids coding!

Computer Science First Google – This is the CS First program that I used and shared about in this post. Students learn computer programming language, SCRATCH 3.0. Hard copy resources can be sent to you (quickly) or you can access the lesson plans and materials online.

NOTE: CS First curriculum comes in English and Spanish. Listed below are topics for ages 9-14; however, students younger or even older can try coding with these materials or other sites shared above.  Check the CS First curriculum for updated topics.

Easy Level: An Unusual Discovery; Animate a Name; Create your Own Google Logo; High Seas Activity; Gumball’s Coding Adventure; Storytelling; Music

Moderate Level: Friends; Fashion and Design; Art

Challenging Level: Sports; Game Design

UP Your Coding Game with Sphero!

Sphero Racing 101

I also obtained FREE spheros (just 2) from the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) program. This is a fabulous resource for educators. There are a variety of curriculum materials and STEM units available for FREE.

using the sphero, coding
My kiddos first began exploring with the spheros to get familiar with them. They would have races and design maze challenges for each other.

After a few weeks getting all students using the device, they began getting into coding their spheros. The end of the school year popped up to quick, but the next step is to engage in solving problems – STEM challenges – using their sphero knowledge. I plan to get the STEM challenges written up into lesson plans and will post these in my TPT store – HOPEFULLY in the next few weeks. My calendar is full of summer projects.

sphero, coding
. . . and the race begins!!

The aviation curriculum is also a great resource to support space and aviation units. There are also materials that can be ordered for the lessons to support learning. Airplane construction kits were sent for students to design and construct airplanes that traveled distance. Students were able to revise their plane to increase distance.

Students measuring flight distance.

The crazy thing is all the materials are FREE! I like that the teacher owns the items, since he/she is better trained and vested to use the materials again. You certainly want to check this out for your students, afterschool clubs, scouting groups, homeschool groups, etc – a group focused on aviation, space, and/or STEM education. I absolutely LOVE the resources available. Contact your local CAP for more support and the STEM and curriculum educator program.

Books About Coding

If you’re looking for some books to read more about coding and view additional activities, check out these resources below.

This beautifully illustrated, hilariously written, and delightfully engaging step-by-step guide is designed for kids (ages 8+) to learn the fundamentals of coding and apply them to amazingly innovative projects. Readers will learn to use the incredible new features of Scratch 3 to build projects that not only teach them to code, but also inspire them to pursue today’s most exciting frontiers of technology:

  • Artificial Intelligence

  • Video Game Bots

  • Machine Learning

  • Augmented Reality

  • Multiplayer Computer Games

  • Get into the game -hands-on video game development -with Bloxels video game creation platform!

  • Build your video games with a mix of physical and digital tools that include designs to help get you started creating your first game

  • The Bloxels Builder app is free to download to your compatible device (not included).

Bit Coding Ozobot

  • Meet Bit – A pocket-sized, basic bot for building early STEAM skills (ages 6+, Beginner coding)

  • Ready to Roll – Arrives assembled and ready to play with two ways to code

  • Color Codes – Start coding screen-free with the stroke of a marker, as you draw commands and Bit responds

  • OzoBlockly – Advance online with the OzoBlockly programming editor, dragging and dropping to create Bit code

If you’re looking for some summertime learning opportunities, vacation fun, homeschool lesson, or full classroom learning . . . check out coding! Once started, your learners will not want to stop.


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Annette Durbin

Annette has been an educator for 29 years working in the PK-6 elementary classroom, English learner instructional specialist, district leadership, university professor, as well as a mentor for teachers nationwide. A National Board Certificated Teacher, Annette focuses her research on accelerating learning and advancing achievement, personalizing instruction, technology, and leadership in the education field.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Michelle

    I briefly started learning simple HTML and working with Red Hat Linux back in college – just a slight bit of exposure to that world gave me such a leg up when I got into the business world so far! If you can actually have semi-informative conversations with IT professionals, they tend to gravitate to your projects a little more since they know you have tried the basic fixes yourself first and your printer’s not just out of paper…. Haha! Still, it is so complicated and if you aren’t in it frequently, just like other languages you can lose it!

    1. Annette Durbin

      Fabulous!!! I didn’t think of this as a language, but you’re right. It is a computer language!!

  2. Jennifer Morrison

    This is so over my head. My Dad used to be a college computer language professor in his retirement. He would have me help grade papers, but thankfully, I always had an answer sheet. Great information though, as I know my 5 year old granddaughter is already looking into coding and wanting to build programs.

    1. Annette Durbin

      I know how you feel! Back in the ’80s, I was given a huge 3 inch binder and a computer to learn on my own. I hated it!! I’m sooo glad there are fun learning opportunities today!

  3. Maya Shetty

    Wow! This post gives me hope that one day, I can & will learn coding. Great info!

    1. Annette Durbin

      Yes, you can!! Once you spend some time working on it . . . it does get easier.

  4. Cindy

    What a great way to learn coding together!

    1. Annette Durbin

      Yes, I had to learn with the kids. When I had a question, someone could help me work through the confusion.

  5. Karie

    Wow the things kids learn now days so many incredible ways and things to learn. I think coding and freak out. So glad others don’t.!

  6. Kyndall Bennett

    OMG, both my fiance and I have started learn to code! He’s studying C++ and I’m going for HTML and JavaScript! I truly wish that I had started to learn this stuff at least back in high school!

    1. Annette Durbin

      GREAT!!! Coding is a lot of fun, once you get going. I love doing website design and working on my blog. It’s all part of the same umbrella.

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