Tackling the Challenges of Block Coding

I love giving young learners the gift of block coding.

It introduces them to the idea that code makes something happen. They learn the magic of creating really good algorithms to create a certain result.

But without fail, every year the same challenges come up. Kiddos either don’t know what the blocks do (even after I’ve slowly introduced them). Or they can’t figure out why their code won’t run. Hint: it’s because they didn’t use an event block.

I have come up with 3 good solutions. But first, let’s talk about Block Coding.

What is Block Coding?

Block coding is a drag and drop coding interface. Students choose a block and then drag it into the workspace.

The beauty of block coding is the drag and drop blocks. It makes it pretty easy to code a sprite (character) to do something.

This is a really great introduction to coding for young learners. It doesn’t require early learners to learn a coding language like Java or HTML.

What Are the Best Block Coding Apps?

One of my favorite block coding apps is Scratch Jr. This is perfect for young learners in PreK – 2nd grade. Even older elementary students can use it with great results!

Others that are really good for iOS or Android are Daisy the Dinosaur and Codeable Crafts.

I like these the best for younger learners. They have simple blocks of code. The most math students may need to do is choose a number from the keypad to determine how many times to move right.

Not to mention that they are perfect for teaching early learners how to persevere and debug when writing code. It’s a child friendly way for students to test out code as much as they need.

For students who are ready for a smidge more complexity and/or have a computer Codemoji is great! It introduces the idea of block coding and begins to introduce students to variables like rotating by degrees, or moving up and down a y axis or across an x axis. Second graders can absolutely handle this when the end result is explained.

Tips for Teaching Block Coding

Block coding is fun. It certainly is an easier way for young learners to begin coding. But it still has challenges.

One is that the children frequently forget what each of the blocks do.

One thing that is great about applications and site that use block coding is that they are color coded. Trust me. The irony of a coding program being color coded is not lost me. But it does make it easier for young children to use.

Each type of block provides a specific result. Some blocks trigger the code. Where others will make a Sprite move, change their appearance, or change scenes. Some blocks also provide controls; like loops, and time delays.

  • Event blocks trigger the code.
  • Motion blocks make the Sprites (characters) move.
  • Look blocks change the Sprites’ appearance. They can grow, shrink, disappear, and reappear.
  • Sound blocks allow the children to record sounds and statements for the Sprites to say something.
  • Control blocks can loop or delay code.
  • End blocks tell the code when to end or move on to the next scene.

I recommend teaching the students a few types of blocks at a time. For example, first teach them about event and motion blocks so they can begin writing a simple algorithm.Once most of them have got that down, introduce them to loops. I like to tell them that it’s a much more efficient way to write code. Instead of having 50 gazillion move right and up blocks.

Then introduce the look and sound blocks. A word of caution. Once your students know how to use the sound blocks all bets are off. They LOVE recording themselves and inserting it. You almost need a full day just for that. And you may want to wait to introduce that last.

But I still get questions from young learners about where to find a certain block. Or they are even scratching their head about why their code won’t work

That’s typically because students forget where to find a particular block.

One of the cool things is that most block coding apps are color coded. This makes it easier to find particular blocks of code that have the same function.

The other nice thing, with Scratch Jr in particular, is that the color code that begins in the app is carried over into Scratch.

This is great to help young programmers make the transition from beginning coding to more advanced block coding.

And most other advanced block coding applications use the same color coding system.

But believe it, that even with all of this front loading and explicit teaching students will still forget and ask questions.

This is where a digital game comes in handy. Sprinkle in a little game-based learning to help students learn the functions of different blocks. Watch the video below to see exactly how it works.

This game has been super helpful. It really helps my early learners remember what the different blocks do. And when I use it before teaching the blocks, it’s a great way for me to assess what the kiddos already know.

Plus, the kids have fun with the self-correcting aspect of it. There’s no pressure in getting it right or wrong. If they get the answer wrong, they can try again! And they get a little hint to help them out.

When using the game with Kinders and other emerging readers, we play together. It works well as a guided station!

When using the game with more developed readers, they can play on their own. Just be prepared to answer any clarifying questions. And to challenge students to use a block they haven’t previously used.

I also like using it as a way to lead into introducing a new block!

This game is even perfect to link in a digital choice board. To learn how to do that, watch this video!