This week I am finding my entire school is taking part in the Hour of Code. It was exciting to know that other grade levels would be working on computer science and learning computer language. This year however, I decided that before my 1st and 2nd graders even touched block coding materials like the ones available on code.org (Star Wars and Minecraft), we needed to create a real understanding of how we speak to computers.
Far too often I hear from my kids, “the computer messed up.” All too many times, the issues is user error. Computers, when working properly, do exactly what you tell them to do, EXACTLY what you tell them to do.
Before we started working on computers, we needed to learn to program without the computer (thanks to Manan @shahlock Shah). We started by having kids write out directions to have me complete simple tasks. They tried to get me to sit in a chair, turn off the lights, fill a cup of water, and draw a picture. What they soon realized was that the challenge was much harder than they thought. Each direction needed a clarifier, a distance, direction, or stop point.
It took working together and several unsuccessful attempts before any of the tasks were completed correctly. Then, after setting the example for them, I unleashed my human robots on our school’s 8th graders. The 8th grade class were also creating commands to direct human robots for simple tasks. They had also been given advice to use precise language and exact steps.
Both my 2nd Grade Human Robots, and their 8th Grade programers were fantastic. My kids followed directions as they were given and continued to follow them, challenging the 8th graders at every turn. Some of the best parts of the experience included 2nd Graders helping 8th Graders develop more precise language by changing “move hand to the right, to move hand to the right and stop at the edge of the book”, an 8th Grade group deciding their initial challenge was too easy and they had to create a more complicated set of commands, and a group realizing the complexity of their text to speech software when they tried to get me to read a book.
Ultimately all of the kids developed a greater understanding of the balance of simplicity and complexity that goes into creating some of their favorite things. They learned a lot about the clarity of language and sequential steps. Later, when we started using block code to create our games, the kids excelled. Given a simple language they created precise, sequential commands and many of them were inspired to keep working on building computer based platforms.
This year, the Hour of Code is not going to stop at an hour, but really carry throughout the year.