Teach coding through projects and storytelling

Rikke Bergreen Paaskesen,
Curriculum specialist and Educational advisor
Odense, Denmark

This week KUBO curriculum specialist, Rikke Berggreen Paaskesen and class teacher Cathy Andersen share their experiences of teaching KUBO Coding with third-grade students in Odense, Denmark. They demonstrate how working in a project-oriented context, including using storytelling skills, allows students to tackle coding while also researching other important curriculum subjects.

Combining coding and project work

We ran our own KUBO Global Citizen mini-project recently with third-grade students at Odense International School. The project ran over three hours on a normal school day, with 15 third-grade students, facilitated by Rikke Paaskesen and assisted by classroom teacher Cathy Andersen. The students were already familiar with the TagTiles® and knew how to make routes, functions, subroutines, and loops using the KUBO Coding and KUBO Coding+ TagTiles to control terms like speed, direction, distance, and time.

Students were divided into groups of three or four and each group had the KUBO map of either Africa, Australia, or North America. They also had a shared table of materials like clay, pipe-cleaners, small wooden sticks, tin foil, matchboxes, puppet eyes, and colored pens.

The session began by asking students what they knew beforehand about the three continents so that they could share interesting facts about different people and cultures. Some of the students talked about family members living in one or other of the cities labeled on the maps. The discussion raised aspects such as language, traditions, habits, songs, food, and behaviors of local people.

Then each group began to design their own local park in a chosen city on their continent. They made use of tinkering materials, including pipe-cleaners, small cardboard boxes, tinfoil, play dough, etc. to create physical surroundings to support their design and storytelling in the local park.

One group had KUBO drive to a spinning wheel in a robot-park in New York. Others had parents and children eating lunch in a local park in Australia, where there was both a garbage bin and a recycle bin. KUBO visited wild animals in Africa in an area 100 kilometers away from a village because KUBO was curious about tigers, giraffes, and special reptiles.

Each group visited the other groups to see how KUBO was coded to navigate terrain, and to hear the different stories. Students talked about and reflected upon what they would create as a next step in the activity.

All the time, we as facilitators listened carefully to the student’s reflections and offered to spar on what ‘next steps’ could be implemented to support achievable learning outcomes for humanities, storytelling, and coding.

In terms of curriculum connection and based on a clearly cross-cultural approach combining coding and aspects of various subjects, we can mention

Geography  – students get to know one or more continents of the world and their associated culture and characteristics.

History – students learn significant cultural and historical features that are specific to each continent.

Literacy – students read and research information from a given country.

Language – students investigate what language the local citizens speak.

Math – students investigate the size of the country using a scale, and research its population.

From the Cambridge Primary English Curriculum, students were practicing and strengthening their communication-, collaboration-, speaking and listening skills:

3SL1 (stage 3) Speak clearly and confidently in a range of contexts, including longer speaking turns.

2SL6 (stage 2) Attempt to express ideas precisely, using a growing vocabulary.

2SL2 (stage 2) Explain plans and ideas, extending them in the light of a discussion.

2SL8 (stage 2) Demonstrate ‘attentive listening’ and engage with another speaker.

From Cambridge Primary Curriculum Global Perspectives, the following areas were considered from stages 2, 3, and 4:

Personal viewpoints: Talk about what has been learned during an activity.

Cooperation and interdependence: Carry out a task in order to contribute to a shared outcome.

Engaging in teamwork: Work positively with others, contributing to a shared outcome.

Communicating information: Talk about a given topic, giving relevant information.

Students take ownership of their learning

I firmly believe that a project-based approach improves the quality of learning because it gives students more time to engage in content and to make cross-curricular connections while working on self-selected themes of interest at a deeper level.

The KUBO Global Citizen mini project is a great example of how this can be done. Using projects and encouraging storytelling while learning how to control technology, helps students develop a sense of agency and ownership of their learning. It puts them in control because they get to decide where, how, and why a robot should be coded to act out a certain behavior or to drive to a specific destination to solve a task. 

There are also many ways to extend the learning when contexts are created, such as exploring societal development, different cultures, or even professions of the future.

In my experience of working on projects in school, students benefit from a proper introduction to project work as a way of working (and thinking). It is important to set clear frameworks for them, including for things like time and content, but also to be clear about expectations for problem-orientation, instruction, presentation, and evaluation before they start. A good introduction for project-work should include inspiring and problem-oriented scenarios that will challenge and spark students’ ideas, fantasy, and engagement.