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Integrate Computer Science and Literacy in Your Elementary Classroom

Feb 07, 2020 2020-02-07

By Brandy Wales

Are you curious how you might integrate computer science in your upper elementary classroom, or are you looking for a unique way to have your students share their favorite books? With technology playing an increasingly important role in every profession, a foundational understanding of computer science is becoming an essential component of student learning. To authentically integrate computer science and literacy, I’m going to teach you how to support your students in using block-based coding to program book trailers.

Introduction to Block-Based Coding

Block-based coding is a type of programming that consists of dragging and dropping graphical blocks together to get a computer to behave how you want it to. Using a block-based language is as powerful for coding as using a text-based language, but it is easier for beginning coders to learn and understand. While computer scientists formerly studied only text-based languages, the introduction of block coding has grown in popularity for first-time programmers as it teaches users to focus on ideas and concepts rather than troubleshoot syntactic errors, like missing semicolons. This type of programming lends itself to a more positive experience for beginning coders by setting them up with greater opportunities for success and excitement rather than frustration.

One way to introduce block-based coding to your students is through free programs, such as CS First created by Google for Education. CS First is a free computer science curriculum comprised of step-by-step instructional video tutorials that students work through at their own pace. Through these tutorials, students learn about and apply new understandings of the block-based coding language Scratch. Scratch is a free programming language and online community created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

You might be wondering how coding will support literacy in your classroom. The CS First course titled “Storytelling” consists of eight 45–90 minute lessons that introduce students to the main elements of a story, while also providing coding challenges. For example, the first lesson introduces the dynamic use of dialogue in text, and students create a short story in which two characters hold a conversation. Students are taught about the computer science concept of sequencing, as they carefully adjust their characters’ dialogue using the “say” and “wait” coding blocks to alternate which character is speaking. Check out this short sample project.

The next seven lessons grow in complexity, equipping students with the skills needed to program their very own book trailers.

Integrating Writing Workshop

While students are learning the basics of coding, mini lessons can be designed to get students thinking about the writing elements that are unique to book trailers. To spark interest, consider launching this unit by providing your students with time to analyze high-quality book and movie trailers. Doing this as a class at first and then in partnerships will provide great insights and discussions. After students have analyzed a variety of trailers and determined the type of book trailer they wish to create, guide them through the process of storyboarding, either individually or in partnerships. Encourage students to share their storyboards and ideas with one another, making changes to improve their work. Using their storyboards and a computer program like Scratch, students will bring their book trailers to life with block-based coding. Check out this student example.

Brandy Wales is a Technology Integration Specialist for Chelsea School District in Michigan. She loves staying up-to-date on the latest technologies and sharing her momentum with others through her website Brandy has a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Indiana University and a Master of Arts in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. She has been working in education approaching 14 years. Follow her on Twitter @MrsWalesTales and @EdTechVideos, or learn more about her background as an educator by checking out her digital portfolio.

Computer Science/Coding/Programming Reading/English/Language Arts Educational Technology Technology

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