Developing literacy involves acquiring new skills and ways of thinking about ourselves and the world. Early childhood is a critical time for children to learn how to read and write, to transition from oral language to written language, as well as to learn other languages. Reading and writing are tools for meaning making and, ultimately, tools of power because they support new ways of thinking.

Today, we have the opportunity to not only teach children how to think by using natural languages, but also by learning artificial languages – programming languages. Those are the languages understood by the “smart” objects that surround us.

The Coding as Another Language project explores in which ways the process of teaching coding to young children can resemble the educational process used for teaching literacy and a second language and seeks to identify the overlapping associated cognitive and cultural mechanisms.

The Coding as Another Language project involves several dimensions: 1) the creation of programming environments, such as KIBO robotics and ScratchJr explicitly designed with a literacy approach, 2) resources, such as the CAL (Coding as Another Language) curriculum for ScratchJr and KIBO, which present the process of coding as a semiotic act, a meaning making activity, and not only a problem-solving challenge, 3) a theoretical framework proposed by Prof. Bers, which is described in her book Coding as a Playground, 4) a pedagogical approach with professional development strategies that explicitly highlight the connection between the activity of coding and the mastering of a language and its uses to convey meaning, 5) research studies in classrooms to understand the affordances of this approach compared to others, 6) experimental studies in lab settings to characterize cognitive mechanisms using fMRI to explore if the language networks in the brain activate when programming. 

Coding as Another Language Curriculum

Our Coding as Another Language Curriculum, which spans 24 lessons, places programming skills in parallel with literacy concepts to effectively teach ScratchJr and KIBO to K-2 children.

In addition to our CAL curriculum, we have shorter units, also centered around a children’s book designed to engage emergent readers or early readers in expressive programming using the KIBO robotics kit or the tablet-based ScratchJr.

12 lessons incorporating There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback.

Building on emerging literacy skills, this unit was created with emergent readers in mind.

12 lessons incorporating Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.

Building on emerging literacy skills, this unit was created with emergent readers in mind.

12 lessons incorporating Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Building on early literacy skills, this unit was created with early readers in mind.

12 lessons incorporating Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees.

Building on early literacy skills, this unit was created with early readers in mind.

Research Studies Using CAL Approach

The DevTech Research Group is partnering with multiple school districts and early childhood centers to explore the use and effectiveness of the Coding as Another Language (CAL) approach. We are currently conducting the following CAL-related research studies:

  1. “Operation: Breaking the Code for College and Career Readiness” (funded by the Department of Defense) to explore best practices for professional development and curricular resources for coding through KIBO robotics and CAL KIBO curriculum in the Norfolk Public School District, Norfolk, VA, the first state in the US to formally mandate K-12 computer science education.
  2. “Blocks, ‘Bots, and Books: Teaching coding as another language in Head Start classrooms”, in collaboration with Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, aims to explore the integration of KIBO robotics and CAL KIBO curriculum in Head Start centers in St. Louis, MO. The project 1) explores how teaching and learning with CAL KIBO impacts children’s coding knowledge, as well as their academic and developmental competencies, and 2) seeks to understand early childhood teachers’ evolving knowledge and attitudes around coding and robotics education.
  3. “Coding as Another Language: The Development and Implementation of a Computational Thinking Curriculum and Sustainable Professional Development Model in K-2” (funded by the Department of Education). The project 1) develops a comprehensive, high-quality integrated Computer Science curriculum for students K-2, based on CAL ScratchJr curriculum, teaching materials and implementation support; 2) implements the curriculum to explore significant improvement in student learning outcomes as well as teacher knowledge, and 3) develops mechanisms for the long-term success of the program beyond the funding period through capacity-building in leaders.

Take a look at this video showing the pilot experience of three schools teaching the CAL ScratchJr curriculum virtually and in hybrid format during the COVID-19 pandemic.