Coding Crocodiles
Danny Stock
During math this spring, 3rd graders collaborated with peers during a series of coding challenges, beginning with an “unplugged” approach. Students created and ran rule-bound programs that followed rules and provided opportunities for the children to find and fix bugs in their code. Playing cards—think Cranium, but with coding inputs—launched the students’ exploration of specific commands, repeating loops, conditional statements, and functions.

“Coding teaches students to think computationally and to break down large problems into manageable tasks,” said Lower School computer science teacher Elvin Peprah. “For kids of a young age, we want to expose them to these skills while being mindful of how much screen time we use. The ‘unplugged’ lessons in the unit gave students the opportunity to explore both the role of coder and of the computer processing their coding inputs. It helped to illustrate the importance of precision and sequencing.”

Later in the unit, Elvin, math teacher Holly Balshem, and 3rd grade homeroom teachers Jessica Ahn, Githa Natarajan, Laura Howell, and Anthony Belber introduced the 3rd graders to the Hopscotch coding app. Students learned how to write a program that included repeat loops and functions to have a character draw a square and a triangle, as well as explore ways to create designs using functions and repeats. Then the students collaborated with their coding partners to create interactive games that included multiple characters, conditionals, and variables. Not only were they learning new problem solving and computer coding skills, but they were also solidifying their understanding of angle measures, positive and negative numbers, and coordinate graphing.

For the final project, students each created their own games using all of the skills they had learned throughout the unit. They had a chance to share problems and solutions with their classmates and became “experts” in solving specific problems like setting lives, controlling timers, and making characters disappear when the game ended. Students followed a rubric to include specific game requirements and checked in with their programming partners to help with planning their next steps. On the last day of school, students will have a chance to play each other’s completed games and offer feedback during an “Arcade Day.”

Brendan ’28 said, “Coding can be useful for many things, because it has math concepts in it. My teachers wanted me to create and publish a video game, and I chose to make my robot main character a boy who avoids ten crocodiles and five laser beams.”

Tessa ’28 added, “Our games were creative, which made them fun for the person playing them. I liked the game made by Isaiah and Elspeth, because you had to avoid obstacles to not lose a life. They added a feature that made you grow if you touched an obstacle, which made it even harder to win. That was clever.”

From Pilgrim games earlier this year to the coding unit now, playing to learn remains an integral part of the 3rd grade curriculum—and to a GDS education at-large. Where students play, their engagement is deep, challenging, rewarding, and long-lasting. The activities deliver the kind of joyful learning that lasts a lifetime. Still, learning to avoid crocodiles would have been enough.
  • Lower School
  • STEM
  • Think Critically