CS Concepts in Elementary Grades

2018 January Tech Expo LOGOThis last week I led a professional development session titled “CS Concepts in Elementary Grades” for my district’s Tech Expo.  It was one of several dozen sessions available for teachers during the day. I had just a handful of teachers at my session.


I started with this video from Code.org. It introduces “why CS?” better than I can.

Next, we took a quick look at the CS Standards at http://www.csteachers.org/page/standards, just to see that there are standards and where to find them.

Then it was on to try out Scratch.  (One teacher had mentioned this is why she signed up for my session.  She wanted to learn Scratch.)  I introduced Scratch by going over these concepts:

    1. Stage
    2. Sprites
    3. Script, Costume, Sound tabs
    4. Block menu

Then I let them try out the Virtual Pet project using the Scratch cards from https://scratch.mit.edu/tips.  I picked the Virtual Pet project as it hits all the concepts I wanted to introduce.


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Code from a student-made Virtual Baby project


These are the concepts I think are important for elementary students to be introduced to:

    1. Computational Thinking
    2. Algorithms
    3. Commands
    4. Events
    5. Initial Conditions
    6. Decisions / Conditionals
    7. Iteration, Loops and Forever
    8. Coordinate knowledge
    9. Data and variables
    10. Debugging – Checking for errors

I had one Kindergarten teacher attend my session, so I handed her an iPad with Scratch Jr. on it.  She had a great time playing and exploring Scratch Jr. while the rest of us working on our Virtual Pets.

The Virtual Pet project turned out to be pretty complicated for a first time Scratcher. They had a hard time with Broadcast and Recieve, just like my Code Club members when they tried the Virtual Pet project. I guess I knew this would be a difficult concept but it is so powerful. I like all the things you learn when trying this project out, even if it is a bit overwhelming.

After some success, we moved on and I showed them some student work.  I wanted them to see examples of how to incorporate Scratch into their curriculum.

    1. Intro to Scratch was independently made by one of my former Code Club members https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/177914932/
    2. Infinity and Beyond shows how a research topic (math topic in this case) can be shared using Scratch https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/22933952/
    3. Apple Inventory is another case of using Scratch to demonstrate understanding  https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/66568488/
    4. Math Games by students for Hour of Code week  https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3616910/
    5. Winter Fun is an introductory project I’ve done with students https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3664546/
    6. Spirograph Studio (reminiscent of the old Turtle paths play)  https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/3984733/


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Using Scratch to show your math solution.


I have many more, but as we were running out of time I quickly went through some Debug-It projects I found on the Scratch site.  I think it is important that teachers feel confident in helping students when they get stuck.  Knowing how to debug Scratch projects can help.

Debug it

  1. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/23267245/
  2. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/24269007/
  3. https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/2042712/

I didn’t really pick the right Debug it projects for my attendees.  These were more challenging for my audience than I thought they would be.  I wish I had chosen easier ones or left this for another session altogether.

I hope my session left them with an idea of how to start using Scratch in their classroom.  I also hope they will reach out to me if they would like support facilitating Scratch projects in their classroom.  I worry that they were a bit overwhelmed with all I presented. They were a pretty quiet bunch, but I guess I’m used to a room full of rambunctious 10-year olds.

Oh, and I also compiled this list of resources:

Resource List

ScratchJr:  http://www.scratchjr.org/

Scratch online: Scratch.mit.edu 

Teacher accounts https://scratch.mit.edu/educators/

Scratch cards & Educator Guides https://scratch.mit.edu/tips

Offline editor https://scratch.mit.edu/download

Starter Projects https://scratch.mit.edu/starter_projects/

ScratchEd online community http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/

Creative Computing Curriculum using Scratch http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/guide/

Code.org Teaching Computer Science Fundamentals PD


Code.org Lessons: https://code.org/student/elementary


CS4NH resources:


CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, Revised 2017


CS for All Teachers 7 “big ideas”:


CodeClub.org:  https://codeclubprojects.org/en-GB/scratch/

K-12 Computer Science Framework: https://k12cs.org/




Computer Science Education Week

Hour of Code 2017 is here.  I’ve got a lot lined up this week for my school and clubs. There will be Hour of Code activities from Code.org available for all classes K-4 during the week in the computer lab.  In addition, I’ve got plans for some 3rd graders to draw a letter (like the first letter of their name) and learn about coordinates using Scratch.  Some 1st graders will begin using Scratch Jr. to make a winter project on iPads.

Each of the 4th-grade classes is starting a different Scratch project – Math game, Labyrinth and Ada’s poetry Generator, or Beetle Blocks project – print your name.

The library club with be trying out the Virtual Pet project from Scratch tomorrow and my school club will be starting their individual projects.

maze game

Labyrinth – reach the dragon. Don’t touch the sides.

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My Penguin Pet



Name in Beetle Blocks

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Ada’s Poetry Generator Project


I’ve done some of these projects before but I’m hoping to blog about some of the new ones in more detail. This is just a preview of the week to come.


Like a Dream

I taught so many hours of code yesterday that I dreamed in code.  (It was the only way to move in my dream.  Thanks Anna & Elsa.)

Code.org puzzle with Frozen characters

Code.org puzzle with Frozen characters

But it was an awesome day.  Three classes of Hour of Code 2014 activities from Code.org, Tynker, & Code Kingdoms for 2nd and 4th graders plus two classes of Scratch and then Code Club after school.  A few 4th graders were with me for couple of these hours, too. I wonder if they dreamed about coding too?

For Computer Science Education Week, or “Hour of Code” week, I had the 4th grade math group I work with write math games in Scratch.  The project idea comes from the Scratch resources on Computers for Creativity‘s website.  The students were paired up and given two math periods to work on the project.   I showed them the two math games that students had made last year:

4th grade math quiz game in Scratch, 2013

4th grade math quiz game in Scratch, 2013

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4th grade math quiz game in Scratch, 2013

I handed out a one page project outline form and a print out of the guidelines to each pair.

Math Scratch Project Outline – Google Docs

With not very much time to work on it, I warned them to keep the project simple.  Get the game working with one math question, then build on it. I also made sure there was a Code Club member in each pairing, so at least one person had some knowledge of Scratch. I then I let them go.

I set their teacher up on Scratch online and he started a math game himself.  That was Monday.  Yesterday my plan was to have them finish up. My friend and co-worker in this class suggested they might need more time.  She had gone home and tried to make a Scratch math game and had some questions.  (How cool it that?  I’ll have to give both adults their “Hour of Code” certificate.)  But it is true,  I did give the students a big, creative project and only a little bit of time to do it.  From what I saw on Monday, only a couple of pairs were making their game too complicated and or not working well together.  We decided to conference with the each pair during the period to see if they had questions, needed feedback and as a general check-in to see if they were going to make the deadline.  First, though, the students “conferenced” and helped their teacher with his math game.

By the end of math on Wednesday, most of the groups were very close to having a working game.  We decided another half period might be warranted.  Then we’ll share them and try them out.

I heard one student say this coding stuff was great and he wanted to sign up for the next round of Code Club.

Oh, yeah, Code Club was great too. Everyone busy working on their own games.  Recording their voices.  Being successful, or at least satisfied, in drawing their sprites and backgrounds. I really enjoy troubleshooting Scratch projects and seeing all the creative and interesting ideas these 4th graders have.  My volunteers are really great, too.