The following is a guest blog written by a CodeMonkey Teacher Ambassador.
Books can transport us to faraway places, expand our minds and offer experiences we may never have in real life…but can they teach kids to code?
As an elementary school librarian and wannabe elementary CS teacher, I’ve been adding coding and computer science books to both my personal and the library collections. So, what are the best coding books for kids?
A deeper dive into the collection of resources shows three major areas: books to get kids interested in coding and computer science, books that try to teach kids to code, and children’s books to help teachers introduce computer science.
In my library, I choose read-alouds and recommend titles to entertain and inform the students. With these books about coding for kids, I strive to create a connection to the story, expose students to a new idea, or awaken a desire to learn more. Biographies such as Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark, Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer by Emily Arnold McCully and the Who Was/Who Is series often capture my students’ attention. The lure of the ‘true story’ expands their thinking and helps them realize that things weren’t always how they are right now. Biographies showcase divergent thinking and the birth of new ideas in a way that a textbook or lecture cannot. Another new trend in coding and computer science books are the chapter and fiction books that feature characters employing the 4 Cs and using technology in their everyday lives. (Think “Babysitters Club meets Spykids.”) Series and chapter books like Code Busters Club, Girls Who Code and A Coding Mission engage readers and model the engineering process or computational thinking to solve problems. And standards-based curriculum guides and/or supporting materials are available for most of these titles.
Older students who enjoy problem solving and word games will appreciate How to Think Like a Coder Without Even Trying by Jim Christian. Real-life examples and brain game style puzzles make for a fun as well as educational book.
My very favorite children’s books for learning big picture coding concepts are How to Code a Rollercoaster and How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk. These girls who code books use an appealing story (who doesn’t want to visit the amusement park?) to clearly illustrate fundamentals. For example, one variable is used to keep count of how many ride tokens are still available. Kids will connect, enjoy, read and reread these fun stories.
Learning to Code
As far as actually learning to code, there are several books that offer step-by-step directions. Scratch is the obvious choice for those wanting to teach themselves. If you are unfamiliar with Scratch, it is a free, block-based coding platform developed by MIT for children. While it can be confusing on its own, with a book in hand a kid can have a sprite (the Scratch term for the objects that perform actions) zipping across their screen in no time. There are several easy to follow books for creating simple games in Scratch. One word of caution – Scratch was recently updated to version 3.0 (the first major change since 2013.) While the books are being updated pretty quickly, make sure you are choosing a 3.0 version, especially for a brand-new programmer. Coding Games in Scratch and Coding Projects in Scratch by Jon Woodcock and 25 Scratch 3 Games for Kids: A Playful Guide to Coding by Max Wainewright are few great updated choices. Even with these resources, a hands-on lesson or two before setting a child loose with a book will get them off to a much better start.
Mission Python by Sean McManus is by far the most advanced book on my list. At first glance it has a bit of a textbook vibe to it. But for someone who really wants to get into the nitty gritty of programming in a self-paced manner it might be just the thing. The book breaks down the steps needed to build a complex game. Readers can play the game first, then learn how it all works. Or just go straight into building it. Or customize the building as they go to create their own non-space-based game. Some free software is required, and support is available through the book’s website.
I’ve one category left to share. IF you are a teacher continue ELSE end. Many books can help educators and parents teach coding. There are books to provide background information (The First Computers by Megan Cooley Peterson and Computers: A True Book by Christine Taylor-Butler) or provide a fun overview (DK’s My First Coding Book.) While kids are not likely to pick these up on their own, they can be the basis for some great lesson plans. Personally, I cannot wait to use the Kids Get Coding series by Heather Lyons and Elizabeth Tweedale. The books are chock full of ideas to develop great learning opportunities. For example, the Learn to Program volume uses an apple picking example to explain coordinates. Students have to code a sequence using coordinates to pick up the basket and gather the apples. Instead of students staring at the grid on a worksheet or smartboard they could use arrow blocks to program a friend, block code to program a robot, make a video describing what to do, create number stories about the different paths to gather the apples, or develop a game where they can move the apples and basket around the grid for a friend to gather. This would fit right in with my 1st grade teachers’ 10 Apples Up On Top lesson. Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity – check!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Debra Cherry is an Elementary School Librarian. You can follow her on Twitter here.