Coding as a Playground Book Guide

This book guide below aligns with chapters from the book, Coding as a Playground (2nd ed.) by Marina Umaschi Bers. Each section provides reading guidelines, activity suggestions for hands-on play, prompts to reflect on new learning, and opportunities to take the concepts discussed in the chapter further with additional resources.

Please note that you will need access to a copy of the book to follow along.

Introduction

Watch & Read

Coding, or computer programming, is growing as an educational imperative worldwide. In this introduction, Marina Umaschi Bers describes how coding, often associated with STEM fields (Science, Technology, Mathematics, and Engineering), can also be taught in a way that emphasizes creativity, social connection, and personal expression. This is especially impactful when introducing coding to very young children in Kindergarten through second grade, an age range for which educational interventions have shown to yield durable developmental gains for children and economic gains for society. Bers concludes by outlining each section of Coding as a Playground, including: Part I: Coding as Playground; Part II: Coding as Literacy; Part III: Computational Thinking; and Part IV: New languages for young children.

Reflect
  • What are the differences between a playground and a playpen in terms of the developmental and learning opportunities they afford? 
  • In which ways is a coding playground similar to an outdoor playground? In which ways are the two  different?
  • According to Bers, what are the basic principles of teaching coding in developmentally appropriate ways?
  • In which ways are KIBO and ScratchJr coding playgrounds?
  • Can you think of examples of playpen technologies for learning? In which ways can those have a positive impact?
Play

Visit different kinds of playgrounds. What do they have in common? What do you notice? What are the children doing? What about the adults? How do playgrounds engage children in the different dimensions of human development (i.e. language development, cognitive development, social development, moral development, emotional development, motor development, etc.?)

Take-It-Further

Watch Marina Bers TEDx Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOQ-9S3lOnM

1

Read

Chapter 1 briefly describes the history of early computer coding languages for child users, particularly the LOGO children’s programming language developed by researchers at MIT in the 1980s. Bers also introduces the educational philosophy of Constructionism, developed by Seymour Papert, LOGO’s creator, to describe how children can learn-by-doing in digital and technologically-enhanced settings, such as coding environments.

Reflect
  • What are the main differences between Papert’s Constructionism and Piaget’s Constructivism?
  • What are the basic principles of Constructionism that Bers proposes for early childhood education? 
  • What does the word “logo” mean in Latin? Why do you think Papert chose that name for his programming language?
  • What do you think were the goals of Seymour Papert and his colleagues when developing LOGO and his educational approach?
  • Is there any relationship between LOGO and the LISP programming language?
  • What experiences have you had with Instructionist and Constructionist pedagogies? In what ways might each of these pedagogical approaches create inequitable learning environments for students
  • What is technocentrism, and how can we avoid it?
Play

Explore LOGO: https://turtleacademy.com/. Try programming your LOGO turtle to draw a shape!

Take-It-Further

Watch the following:

Read the following:

2

Read

Using illustrative vignettes and descriptive explanations, chapter 2 describes how children can use currently-available digital apps, games, and robotics kits to create expressive, personally meaningful coding projects. In each vignette, Bers describes how children are engaging in computational thinking, which allows them to organize and sequence thoughts and actions in a logical way, much like how a computer executes a program.

Reflect
  • What does it mean to express oneself?
  • What are examples of different tools we use for expression?
  • How would you respond to principals who do not want young children using technology in their schools?
  • How would you respond to parents seeking advice regarding the use of technology by their young children at home?
  • What are the differences between textual and computational literacy?
  • Choose one example of coding tools for children described by Bers then answer the questions below:
    • Reflect on a vignette in which a child uses the tool, then think of how  they use the tool that is more like a playpen?
    • Think of how they use the tool that is more like a playground?
  • Reflect on a vignette in which a child engages in problem-solving while using a tool. What are ways that teachers and parents can support their children as they problem solve while exploring tools?
Play

Can you make an interactive collage with ScratchJr that expresses what you are grateful for in life? We would love to see it! Share it via email to: devtech@tufts.edu or scratchjrconnect@tufts.edu. 

Take-It-Further

Watch the following:

Read the following:

3

Read

Chapter 3 describes the importance of play and creativity in educational coding experiences for children. Classic developmental theories of play are introduced and used to describe ways that children can approach technology in a playful way. Bers presents a useful heuristic of digital playpens vs playgrounds to support holistic, playground-style learning in digital spaces. The chapter emphasizes how physical and social play are of particular importance for young children’s learning, another reason why coding through play is so effective. The chapter concludes with a discussion of strategies and examples for supporting these types of hands-on play with digital learning tools.

Reflect
  • In which ways play and learning are associated?
  • Bers argues that play is important in learning to code. What are her reasons?
  • How do children use their bodies when playing with the KIBO robot? Why is the body important for children’s learning about coding and robotics?
  • Bers describes a study that looked at the effectiveness of different teaching styles, specifically “Formal Authority” and “Personal Model”. What is the difference between the two and why was one more effective?
  • Are there instances in which you think that play is not a good option for learning new things?
Play

Play Programmer Say with a friend using the ScratchJr printable block images. Programmer Says is just like the game Simon Says, but the Programmer is telling us what to do. One player gives instructions to all the other players by saying “Programmer says …” and stating an action (for example, “Programmer says touch your nose”) and all other players have to complete the task. If the programmer ever starts an instruction without saying “Programmer says” (for example, “Touch your nose”), then other players should not do that action, or else they are “out” for the rest of the round. Continue playing until only one player is left standing. They are the next Programmer, and everyone can join in again for the next round!

Use your ScratchJr Printable Blocks to invent another game, and email it to scratchjrconnect@tufts.edu. Is your game more like a Playpen or Playground?

Take-It-Further

4

Read

In chapter 4, Bers draws on prior research from the fields of textual literacy and computational thinking to explore the theoretical and practical comparisons between natural (spoken or written) languages and artificial (or computational) ones. Both natural and artificial languages have symbolic representational systems with a grammar and syntax; can be used to convey meaning or to produce something that has never existed before; and can communicate things that are displaced in time or space. A person can be both textually and computationally literate, and both forms of literacy can translate to social, political, and economic empowerment.

Reflect
  • What is a language?
  • How are natural and artificial languages similar and different? 
  • What other symbolic systems of representation do you know? How are they useful to express yourself and communicate?
    • Writing has different genres and formats (e.g., novels, instruction manuals, emails) - do they have counterparts in coding? What genres are there in coding?
  • What learning processes become available to children once they can read and write?
  • Why is it important for people who are not professional coders to learn how to code?
  • Do you agree with the notion that coding is the literacy of the XXIst century? Why or why not?
  • If coding is a new literacy, what are the challenges teaching it?
  • What can we learn from literacy campaigns all over the world that might impact how we approach the teaching of coding?
    • How can computational literacy and digital technologies help create democracies - or authoritarian regimes?
Play

Watch these children dancing the Hokey Pokey with KIBO. Write your “Hokey Pokey Program” in your favorite natural language, and then try programming it with ScratchJr! How was the process similar or different? What was challenging?

Take-It-Further

Read the following:

5

Read

Chapter 5 outlines Bers’ proposal that 4-7 year old children undergo a developmental progression in skills when learning to code in any language or platform. These coding stages, from least to most experience, are: 1. Emergent, 2. Coding and Decoding, 3. Fluency, 4. New Knowledge, 5. Multiple Perspectives, and 6. Purposefulness. Bers’ research suggests that a child at any coding stage may explore Multiple Perspectives and Purposefulness when using a programming language that is developmentally appropriate for early childhood, and offers a platform for creative, generative coding.

Reflect
  • In which ways are the coding stages different from other stages of development?
  • What are the similarities and differences between literacy stages and coding stages?
  • Bers offers several examples of how to recognize fluency with a coding language. What are some of the ways that a fluent coder can express herself?
  • What is the value, if any, of a stage assessment for evaluating children’s coding knowledge? What are the challenges?
  • Can you think of examples of something a child could do at the emergent stage of coding? The fluency stage? The purposefulness stage?
  • Why is it useful to understand different coding stages?
Play

Can you use ScratchJr to make a project that will place you in the purposefulness stage? What elements will it have? Share it via email to: info@scratchjr.org or scratchjrconnect@tufts.edu. 

If you have a KIBO available, what does a KIBO project created by someone in the purposefulness stage look like? What elements will it have?

Take-It-Further

At the DevTech research group we have developed a coding stages assessment (CSA). You can learn more about the ScratchrJr and KIBO CSA here: https://youtu.be/wUIyHGbdSzE

Do you want to take the CSA for ScratchJr and/or KIBO to know your stage? E-mail: devtech@tufts.edu to set a date and time.

You can read more about the foundation of the Coding Stages research here: Bers, M. U. (2019). Coding as another language: a pedagogical approach for teaching computer science in early childhood. Journal of Computers in Education, 6(4), 499-528.

6

Read

In chapter 6, Bers presents seven powerful ideas of computational thinking framework, core concepts that are developmentally appropriate in early childhood. These powerful ideas are: algorithms, design process, representation, control structures, debugging, modularity, and hardware/software. She further presents vignettes and lesson outlines from her Coding as Another Language curriculum, as a way to contextualize and illustrate how each of the seven powerful ideas can be practically explored in a formal early learning setting. This curriculum approaches coding as a form of communication and expression, and teaches language and literacy content as well as computational content.

Reflect
  • What are the powerful ideas of computational thinking presented in the CAL approach? 
  • How are the powerful ideas of computer science connected to the powerful ideas of literacy?
  • Can you think of examples of the seven powerful ideas as they apply to everyday life?
  • How are the design process and the writing process aligned?
  • What are the powerful ideas of your favorite discipline(s)?
  • What teaching approaches would and would not promote engaging students in the CAL-KIBO curriculum?
  • What aspects of the CAL-KIBO curriculum do you think would be challenging for educators? What aspects would be easily implemented? 
  • What are some possible advantages of giving students curricula that integrate coding with literacy and/or other disciplines?
  • Why is it important to teach children to code with curricula such as CAL?
Play

Experience the Coding as Another Language curriculum.

Take-It-Further

Read the following:

Watch the following:

7

Read

Chapter 7 explores computational thinking as an expressive form. Computational thinking allows children to think in a computational way, including solving problems algorithmically and developing technological fluency. This chapter situates coding outside of the realm of traditional STEM disciplines, addressing the common misconception that coding is like solving a puzzle. Instead, the chapter focuses on computational thinking as an aspect of creative expression, once a coder has gained fluency in a coding language. The chapter concludes with a perspective that technological tools are necessary for children to engage in some aspects of computational thinking.

Reflect
  • Define computational thinking. Where did this term come from?
  • The book discusses both coding and computational thinking. How are these ideas related? 
  • In which ways can children use programming languages to express themselves?
  • How do you think computer science could be integrated in a history class? In a language arts class? In a foreign language class?
  • How has STEM education changed over time? ·   How do children engage in computational thinking when they are using a “play-pen” type tool vs. a “playground” type tool?
  • What does Bers mean by tweaking Wing’s definition of CT to include expression? 
  • What are possible advantages to using unplugged activities to teach CT to young children? What are possible disadvantages?
Play

Play the Partner Drawing Activity with a friend to see the importance of specific programming instructions! Sit back-to-back with your partner. One player (the Artist) has the paper and pencil, and the other player (the Programmer) has a secret image that the artist cannot see - simple line drawings work best. Have the programmer look at the image and narrate instructions for the artist to draw. The programmer should try to give clear and specific instructions to help the artist copy the secret image, and the artist should try to follow instructions exactly. Take turns being the programmer and the artist, and end the game by seeing how your drawings came out! How are drawings similar or different from secret images? What instructions were more helpful when making your drawings?

Take-It-Further

Read the following:

8

Read

In chapter 8, Seymour Papert’s concept of “powerful ideas” is explored, and defined as ideas that are personally useful, interconnected with other disciplines, and have roots in intuitive knowledge that a child has internalized over a long period. Bers explores each of her seven powerful ideas of computational thinking in depth. These powerful ideas are: algorithms, design process, representation, control structures, debugging, modularity, and hardware/software. Each idea is explored for why it is powerful, and how it can be presented to young children in a developmentally appropriate way.

Reflect
  • Are there other powerful ideas of computer science that you think should also be included in the early childhood coding curriculum because they are developmentally appropriate?
  • Can you describe how you can use computational thinking in real life?
  • In what way does computational thinking seem like a new way of thinking?
  • In what way does computational thinking use cognitive processes that overlap with other domains?
  • How can we teach emotional skills when young children are debugging?
Play

Try the Getting Loopy unplugged activity and learn about coding through dance. Use cards with pictures of dance moves to help children make a pattern of dance moves to try to act out (you can also use the ScratchJr block icons or the KIBO coding cards if you prefer). Arrange the cards in a sequence, and practice dancing in the right order to music. Help children think about repeating parts of the dance as repeating loops. How many loops are in your dance program? Once children master the pattern, invite them to change the order and create their own dance loops.

View the full ScratchJr Getting Loopy activity on Code.org here: 

Paper folding is another unplugged activity that will teach children on sequencing, modularity, debugging, geometry, and perseverance. Children can fold fish, cats, flowers, boats, or even create something new! There is a wide variety of step-by-step paper folding instructions that children follow, which can be found here. You can also incorporate collaboration and communication components into this activity. You may ask children to work on the same shape or ask them to work on different shapes and take turns teaching each other.

Take-It-Further

Read the following:

Explore more unplugged activities from Hour of Code.

9

Read

Chapter 9 presents the coding process, or the iterative cycle of steps that children engage in to complete a coding project. These steps include asking questions, brainstorming and coding solutions, and testing, iterating, and sharing results.The coding process is likened to other creative learning processes, such as the design cycle, the writing process, and the scientific method. After describing elements of the coding process, the chapter focuses on scaffolding the design process from the perspective of young children, technology designers, and educational facilitators.

Reflect
  • What are the steps of the coding process? 
  • Which step do you think will take the longest time for children?
  • What skills can young children practice by exploring the coding process?
  • How is the coding process similar to other processes in learning?
  • How can the coding process promote the development of executive function?
  • Can you describe a process that you use in one of your daily activities or favorite hobbies? In which ways is it similar or different from the coding process?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the engineering design process and the coding process described by Bers?
  • Why did Bers decide to change the diagram of the coding process from a circle to the infinitum symbol?
Play

Can you make a chair for Mr. Bear? And how about a chair for Mr. Fish? And a chair for Ms. Kitten? What do all of these chairs have in common? In which ways are they different? How did you use the design process for making them?

Take-It-Further

Check out the Center for Educational Engineering Outreach (CEEO) at Tufts University.

Read the following:

10

Read

In chapter 10, Bers introduces her Positive Technological Development (PTD) framework, a framework that describes positive psycho-social behaviors that children can engage with by using developmentally appropriate technologies and technology-rich activities. These positive behaviors, also called the “six C’s”,  include: collaboration, communication, community building, content creation, creativity, and choices of conduct. The chapter explores how each positive behavior that children exhibit when using technology indicates their engagement with and development of a positive character trait. This chapter also  describes the PTD cards, a practical tool developed by Bers’ DevTech Research Group to support adults in successfully selecting and deploying technologies to support each behavior in the PTD framework.

Reflect
  • What is Positive Technological Development? Why did Bers choose this name?
  • How does coding support PTD in children? What conditions and strategies need to be put in place?
  • How might each of the 6 C’s present on the outdoor playground? How might they present on the coding playground? And how about the art class?
  • In which ways can PTD serve as a useful tool for designing curriculum and or evaluating new technologies?
  • What is the relationship between PTD and other forms of socio-emotional learning?
  • What is the role of the teacher in promoting PTD? How can the teacher promote PTD in the classroom?
  • What choices might be presented to children in the coding playground?
Play

Play one of the games outlined in the PTD cards developed by the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University.

Take-It-Further

Read the following:

Check out different PTD tools developed by the DevTech research lab.

11

Read

Chapter 11 is about the creation and use of ScratchJr. ScratchJr is a free app developed by Bers’ DevTech Research Group at Tufts University, in collaboration with Mitch Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. It is widely-used by millions of children around the world. With ScratchJr, children can code personally meaningful and interactive collages, stories, games, and other animations. This chapter begins with an illustrative vignette about how children can use ScratchJr, and then describes the history of how researchers developed and launched the app. Following this, the chapter offers an indepth description of the various features in the ScratchJr programming language, with an emphasis on the design elements that make it a technological “playground” that supports children’s engagement with behaviors from the Positive Technological Development framework.

Reflect
  • In which ways was ScratchJr designed to be appropriate for young children? Consider the aesthetic design, user interaction, and level of prior knowledge required.
  • In which ways ScratchJr’s design supports Positive Technological Development? In which ways, it doesn’t?  
  • Which of the 6 C’s behaviors from the Positive Technological Development frameworkcould you envision children engaging in while working with ScratchJr?
  • What new features would you like to see incorporated into ScratchJr?
  • In which ways is ScratchJr a coding playground? 
  • How does the design of ScratchJr incorporate other educational topics through its design? Which features promote math concepts? Literacy concepts?
Play

With children or friends, try making one of the many multi tablet ScratchJr collaborative activities developed by the DevTech research lab. Share it via email to: info@scratchjr.org or scratchjrconnect@tufts.edu. 

Take-It-Further

12

Read

Chapter 12 is about KIBO. KIBO is a tangible robotics kit developed by Bers’ DevTech Research Group that is widely-used by young children around the world. With KIBO, children can code a robot to perform a dance, recreate part of a story, bring to life a dream pet, and more. KIBO is assembled with easily-connected parts like wheels, motors and sensors that attach to a robot body.   It is coded using a language of tangible interlocking wooden blocks that code for simple movements and sounds, while also inviting children to explore complex repeat loops and conditional statements. This chapter begins with an illustrative vignette about how children can use KIBO, and then describes the history of how researchers developed and launched the robot kit. Following this, the chapter offers an in-depth description of the various features in the KIBO programming language, with an emphasis on the design elements that make it a technological “playground”, a technological tool that supports children’s engagement with behaviors from the Positive Technological Development framework.

Reflect
  • How was KIBO designed to be appropriate for young children?
  • What makes it different from other robotic kits for young children?
  • In which ways does KIBO’s design support positive technological development? 
  • What new features would you like to see incorporated into KIBO?
  • What 6 C’s (or positive behaviors) could you  envision children engaging in while working with KIBO?
  • In which ways does KIBO offer a coding playground? 
  • Describe the design of KIBO’s physical parts. Why were those materials and symbols used?
  • How does using KIBO’s blocks support children using their senses?
  • How was KIBO designed to be socially and culturally relevant for use around the world?
Play

Can you program KIBO to dance to your favorite music? For inspiration, check out this video gallery of KIBO dances from all over the world.

Take-It-Further

Check out the free KIBO curricula and the free KIBO CAL curricula developed by the DevTech Research Group.

Want to get your own KIBO? Get it from KinderLab Robotics. For step-by-step tutorials on using KIBO, visit the KIBO Resources site. 

Watch the following to see KIBO in action:

Read the following about the learning outcomes of using KIBO:

13

Read

In chapter 13, Bers presents a series of practical recommendations for designers of technological tools to consider when designing for child users. These recommendations include considerations about developmental milestones of young children, curriculum and mentorship connections for education, technological and institutional infrastructure, and ways to engage broad and diverse communities and through inclusive design.

Reflect
  • What are the developmental milestones and needs of young coders? In what ways do KIBO and ScratchJr meet those needs? 
  • What are the dimensions to consider in the design of positive experiences for children in the digital landscape? 
  • What are the pros and cons of the KIBO and ScratchJr platforms in terms of usability and accessibility? How could their technological designs be improved to address some of these cons?
  • To what extent is adult involvement needed with these tools? How did the design account for adult use and help?
Play

Choose your favorite children’s book for this Storybook Inspired Making Activity! Pick a story that features a problem as part of the plot. Can you make something to help solve the problem? For example, in the story of Rapunzel, what if she could fly or take stairs down the tower instead of using her hair? Test out your ideas by making a small prototype using materials you currently offer children in your home or classroom. If you feel inspired, get children involved in this activity with you.

Take-It-Further

Play with Scratch, designed for children eight and up.

Check this booklet about maker spaces and different maker activities edited by Brian E. Gravel, Marina Bers, Chris Rogers and Ethan Danahy.

14

Read

Chapter 14 offers helpful tips for educators and practitioners to consider when introducing coding into formal and informal early childhood learning settings. These recommendations include practical suggestions about classroom management, technological materials, pacing, connections to frameworks, assessment, and more. The chapter also reminds the reader of the Positive Technological Development framework, and invites educators to consider ways to reinforce this pedagogical perspective in their own personal teaching and learning practice.

Reflect
  • What are the considerations for developing a curriculum to support computational thinking through playful coding? 
  • Bers writes that the Classroom Practice (3rd column) of the PTD framework depends on unique learning settings and goals. What are some strategies you already use or that you could try in your learning setting with children that could foster each of the 6 Cs?
  • What makes an idea “powerful”? 
  • What are the benefits and challenges of one-time coding activities versus full curriculum units that span multiple lessons over multiple days?  
  • What kinds of coding activities might require more step-by-step guidance versus free exploration? What is the role of the teacher and the student in each type of coding activity?
  • What materials do you have in your learning setting that can be used to teach coding and computational thinking?
  • What classroom management and organizational systems are necessary to teach coding effectively?
  • What might be an “ideal” group size for coding activities and why? 
  • Take a look at your state and/or country’s frameworks or standards for computer science in the PreK – 2nd grade band. If your country does not have any formal frameworks, check out the K-12 CS Framework in the United States. What are the core elements of these frameworks? Are there any standards you disagree with? What might be missing or neglected from these frameworks?
  • What are different ways you can assess your children’s learning and understanding of coding and computational thinking skills?
Play

Read lessons 1-3 of the ScratchJr Kindergarten CAL curriculum. Choose one of these lessons and use the Robotics Curriculum Planning Sheet to imagine how you could implement or adapt this lesson to work in your early childhood learning setting (you do not need a robot to use the sheet). Consider how you will support PTD throughout the lesson. For example, you could encourage communication during the tech circle by giving children time to talk with partners, or support choices of conduct during programming time by encouraging children to help their classmates when they have finished their own project.

Take-It-Further

Try some of DevTech’s other free planning materials to adapt or design your own coding lessons and activities:

Watch the following to learn how to host a Family Day event:

Check out educators’ stories, resources and discussions on the ScratchEd Online Community Archive or join the Teaching with Scratch Facebook group

Read the following about how educators and families can support young children’s coding experiences: 

Conclusion

Read

The conclusion briefly summarizes several of the key points presented elsewhere in the book. First, the conclusion reminds the reader of the Positive Technological Development framework that adults can use to recognize beneficial psycho-social engagement in young children’s play with technology. Second, it reinforces Bers’ metaphor that digital tools can function like playgrounds in supporting children’s growth and development. Third, coding and computational thinking are considered separate from traditional STEM fields, and instead reimagined as a literacy with which children can become fluent storytellers, problem solvers, and creative artists, using code as their expressive medium.

Reflect
  • What is the purpose of teaching children coding?
  • What challenges do adults/teachers/parents face when they have to introduce children to the world of coding without being fully ‘coding literate’ themselves?
  • What will curricula look like in 20, 30 years, when today’s young coders are the teachers?
  • Can you think of different metaphors to represent the idea of playgrounds and playpens?
  • Bers writes, “It is our responsibility to introduce children to coding and computational thinking when they are young.” What are the arguments she lists in the conclusion to support this position?
Play

Join the DevTech Playground! Sign up for our community mailing list and social media accounts to learn about more DevTech news and events.

Take-It-Further

Explore the yearlong  Early Childhood Technology (ECT) program, a graduate certificate program offered at Tufts for anyone interested in learning how to playfully integrate technology and engineering in early childhood.

Check out DevTech’s summer Professional Development Workshops!