By Meredith Levine, Director of Family Engagement, Fayetteville Free Library
Many libraries have added coding programs for children and teens to their programming regimens. Coding not only is a necessary skill for careers in technology related fields but it is a great way to think critically and learn how to problem solve. We all know that librarians wear many different hats, but that does not mean we are the experts in everything that we do. I am not an expert in coding and know basic HTML and a little Python but I confidently teach a coding club for students in grades 3-6 and you can too.
We started a bi weekly coding club this past January at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) and have an out pour of children coming each time with people always on the waiting list. The first session didn’t involve much computer programming at all but more the fundamentals of how computer
programming works. I adapted the Peanut Butter and Jelly demo to give kids a visual example of coding. Their instructions were to make me walk over to the door and push it open; seems like an easy task but I had to follow the exact instructions they gave me, any flaw in that algorithm would clearly be seen. They told me to walk, so I started walking in place, they continued to tell me to walk forward until I was at the door and kept gently walking myself into the door until they told me to stop and later successfully got me to open the door. This example is a great way to visually show how specific computer programming has to be in order for it to function properly. Here is an example of a peanut butter and jelly demo. You can also visually explain this basic concept with the game Robot Turtles for the younger kids.
The next couple sessions we played around with various types of code using online resources like Hour of Code at code.org. We programmed Elsa and Anna to skate in various shapes while learning actual programming language on the backend and learned the basic code behind Flappy Bird. We played a round of Code Combat where kids played a game filled with monsters and diamonds but in order to successfully get to the next round you had to write Python correctly.
After successfully dipping our feet in various different kinds of coding through FREE online resources we dove right into using Scratch. Scratch was developed through the MIT Media Lab and is probably
the most widely used program to teach kids how to program due to its easy features using graphical programming language with connecting blocks. Scratch also gives users the ability to “remix” or see inside other projects giving them the opportunity to change any program made on Scratch. We worked with Scratch for a few weeks with one goal: make a game that is fun and not that easy. Kids had a blast working together either remixing games or making one from the start. We spent our final day over Spring Break this year showing off the games we made. Each kid has an account and can continue to work on their projects at home or at the library.
Our next project starts this month where we will be learning HTML and creating simple websites. There are free resources online that nicely mirror the code and its outputs at the same time, for this case we will be using Mozilla Thimble. We had an expert from the CNY Chapter of Girls in Tech lead a three hour workshop on HTML for middle, high school and adults and with its success we think the same approach can work for children as well. We will start learning about the Syntax, tags, attributes, elements and continue to work on making paragraphs, headings, lists, links, and images, etc. After learning these each kid will have to remake a basic HTML website that I made and then go on to develop their own.
There are so many free websites and apps out there and I only named a few for kids to learn coding and it is a fun way for the teacher to learn along with them. Try a Scratch program or do Hour of Code together and before you know it, you’ll be learning coding and feeling confident enough to run a club for elementary students! If you would like to learn more about what we are doing in Coding Club or have questions please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org