Friday, April 11, 2014

A Coding Breakthrough: My Experience with Coding

by Renee Peoples

“Coding? That is crazy. I teach elementary school!  They can't write code to program computers at this age.” As a third grade teacher, I had NO interest in doing coding with my students when I first heard about it. Just the idea of writing a program for a computer seemed way too difficult for me, let alone eight and nine year olds. Just before Christmas I heard about it again. My mind was more open then because I was looking for something to do that was not a waste of time the last few days before we had break. Watching movies and coloring pictures seemed boring, and we had done all the crafts that I could stand to do.   So this time, it piqued my interest. With no honest idea of what I was getting into, I signed my class up on a free site for children of all ages to learn how to code (, and off we went.

Day 1- The next day I presented it to my students, who caught my skepticism and were not too interested. I had some Chromebooks and iPads that I had secured for my students, thanks to Donors Choose. I also brought my own personal iPad from home so that every student could have a device to use. They used the class code that was provided when I signed the class up, and logged in and gave it a try. It took about five minutes to hook every single child. It starts off with teaching students how to command an Angry Bird where to move. As you would expect, that had a lot of appeal to my students. Immediately, they learned to write the code to move the Angry Bird where they wanted it to go. There are teacher lessons on the website and those created even more interest for the students. When they had to write directions for another group to follow, they started to understand why precise directions matter for a computer program. It took them about 30 minutes online to be better at it than I could keep up with, and I could not even offer them any assistance when they couldn’t get it to work. They were very willing to help each other, though. Within a few hours, I had done a mini lesson on the degrees of angles and watched students write the code to adjust their angles. They discussed it with each other and said things like, “Really, the 120 degree angle was too big, you may need to try 110 instead.” By lunch, they complained that they had to eat when they could be writing code. Students were comparing levels and trophies given for achieving certain levels before the end of the first day.  

Day  2- The class rushed in the door, grabbed a computer or an iPad before the announcements and pledge were even done, and got to work. Students helped each other when they got stuck, showed the items they had written code to draw and came to an agreement that I needed to spend more time learning how to write code so I could keep up with them. They literally spent every minute of the day engaged and happily learning how to write code. By the end of the day, they were feeling sad for students who were, “wasting the day on movies and parties when they could be writing code like us!"  They were really able to do a LOT more than I gave them credit for when I first heard about the opportunity to write code. Maybe I found something productive, without even understanding what I was doing.

Day 3- I may as well have stayed home because my students walked in and got on a computer or iPad, taught themselves until it was time to go home and asked me if it was alright for them to write code over the two week break. Of course, I said yes! They also reminded me that I better get to work if I was ever going to catch up with them.

Three Months Later- My students were invited to come (along with local companies, Google, Duke, area colleges) to a Manufacturing Awareness Day to share their coding experience with middle school and high school students in our county and show some of their code. I took six students there to spend the day showing what they could do. The highlight of my day was the high school student who was not impressed and said, “I know how to write REAL code so I don’t need to see play code.” I convinced him to just watch one child, and within minutes he was totally impressed by the coding skills of my third grader. After watching, he told me, "They can do anything I can do!”

Even if you teach third grade and have no time for anything extra, you can sneak a bit of coding between portfolios and parent conference, Read To Achieve letters and BOG tests. Who knows? Maybe the logical thinking they learn in code may help them have more success in math and reading! Give it a try! It was the best thing I ever got into without a real plan and, next year, it will definitely be in my plan.

Renee Peoples is a National Board Certified third grade teacher at Swain West Elementary. She has taught every grade from preK to 5th grade and been in administration in her 30+ years in education. She serves on the NCAEE board. Although she has taught conferences and training for adults (including college level courses) for many years, she always returns to her her first love- teaching children. 


  1. That is awesome! My husband works for Google and he (and I) both feel kids can be a lot smarter than we give them credit for. I bet those children who were in that class will never forget how much fun learning can be. Hopefully they have other teachers that make exploration and math/science more hands on and enjoyable.
    Kids Math Teacher

  2. I too introduced code writing to my grade threes this year. I signed up for The Hour of Code and the students did an amazing job! I loved how some of my students, who usually struggle with math and reading in my class, became the "STARS" of the class when it came to writing code. They became the ones that my higher level students turned to for help when they came upon a coding problem.

  3. I did this with my third graders last year too!! The things they could figure out was AMAZING! SO glad I also took the time to try it out!