Blog Post

Bring Your Classroom Community Together with Computational Thinking!

Welcome back to school! It is such an exciting time of the year—fresh starts for students (and teachers), and opportunities to make new connections, learn, and grow together. As we all know, it is incredibly important to take time at the beginning of the school year (and throughout the year) to bring your classroom community together to help create a safe learning space for students. These community-building activities can take many different forms—they may be games, scavenger hunts, team challenges, morning meeting discussions, or activities embedded into the curriculum. With that in mind, here are a few unplugged activities for incorporating computational thinking strategies into your classroom team-building work.

  • Rescue Mission - This activity is all about creating clear instructions, using active listening skills, and debugging. Students write a program (set of directions) for a robot (another student) to follow to get from one place in the room to a different destination. If you do not have access to an area with a grid on the ground or cannot create one, students can write instructions for a certain number of steps.
    • Consider how this could be modified to help introduce your students to their new classroom.
      • Instead of a classroom scavenger hunt, what if students create directions for their robot to get from their desk to the student supply center or another area where key materials are located?
      • Are students new to the school? Create directions to get from their classroom to the cafeteria or gym.
      • Need an extra challenge? Student teams write directions for the robot to maneuver from one place to another. Teams then exchange directions and have to follow a program written by another group. If the program does not work properly, the team debugs it and provides solutions. If the program does work properly, the team could then write an alternate solution.
      • Want to step it up even more? Add (human) sensors! Instead of using a grid or a number of steps to tell how far the robot should move each time, add a (human) sensor to tell the robot when it is a certain distance away from an obstacle. If students are already familiar with coding robots that use sensors, their program could resemble something like one of the examples below.
Image of program directions

 

second image of program directions

 

  • Sandwich Algorithms - In this lesson from CSinSF, students learn about and practice writing algorithms by creating directions for making a PB&J sandwich and then a sandwich of their own. CSinSF is a great resource for lesson plans and activities for students PK-12.
    • Think about how this could be modified to help introduce students to one another.
      • Get to know the students by learning how to make their favorite or least favorite sandwich.
      • Create a custom sandwich for another student. Students could pair up and interview another student in the classroom and then create a recipe for a custom sandwich that they think their classmate would enjoy.

 

  • Secret Handshake - This is another lesson from CSinSF. Although the lesson is part of their K-2 curriculum, it is an excellent icebreaker to help students get to know one another (and have a little time to be goofy) while still introducing or reinforcing CS vocabulary. Students create a custom handshake algorithm and then remix it. This activity reminds me of the teacher who has individual handshakes for each student as they enter the room. I used it as a morning meeting activity with my sixth graders last year and started math class with it again this year.
    • Think about how this could be used for a morning greeting?
      • What if the class developed a set of possible handshakes to choose from as they enter the classroom each day? This could start out with, “Do you want a high-five, handshake, or fist-bump?,” but then turn into a set of multi-step handshakes to choose from. Post the algorithm for each handshake outside of the classroom. Students can then develop their own handshake algorithms to add to the choices.
Photo of student handshake

 

How have you incorporated CS into your back-to-school routines and lessons?

Lisa Rode is a CS for All Teachers Community Ambassador who teaches sixth grade at Kings Glen Elementary School in Springfield, Virginia. CS has transformed Lisa’s own classroom—she includes programming and robotics into all the subjects she teaches. She is passionate about advancing the integration of programming, computational thinking, and physical computing into all elementary school subject areas. Lisa was chosen as the 2019 Fairfax County Public Schools Outstanding Elementary Teacher.