As part of an initiative to develop a nation of computer programmers, Estonia will teach programming beginning in first grade all the way through twelth grade. Although not a mandatory program, the hope is that first through fourth graders will be coding as part of their normal program.
The amount of enthusiasm First Graders show when you expose them to cool programming tools like BeeBots, Microworlds and Scratch Animation, makes one think that this is the only way to teach. The students are engaged, focused and committed. Students can learn how to use commands when taught in isolation. Using Beebots to teach measurement and distance, children make predictions about how many “steps” the Beebot has to take to make it from point A to point B, giggling the entire way. Repeating patterns in the script to create animations using Microworlds, watch their eyes light up as their character dances, drive or runs across the screen. This year, students are learning Scratch Animation.
Is programming developmentally appropriate for 1st Grade? Dr. Seymour Papert, a scientist at MIT, developed LOGO computer programming language so that it could be used in developmentally appropriate ways with young children. “It allows children to create their own miniature (micro) world where they learn through experimentation, exploration, and self-directed activity about the cause and effect relationships encountered in computer programming and throughout most of life’s experiences.”(GILLESPIE, C.W. & BEISSER, S.)
This year, 1st Graders are learning Scratch Animation, also developed by MIT. Scratch allows them to be self-directed, creative, and innovative. Students create animated stories and feel successful at every level of achievement from using “move 10 steps” to learning why to use “go to”. As the students tinker, they feel like experts as they answer each others questions and share discoveries. This is exactly what we want education to promote in our youngest learners.
Next step: Teaching each other about GERMS using Scratch Animation.
GILLESPIE, C.W. & BEISSER, S. (2001). Developmentally Appropriate LOGO Computer Programming with Young Children. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 2001(1), 229-244. Norfolk, VA: AACE.