By John Altamirano, EdTech Specialist at International School Colegio Nueva Granada CNG
The BEAT model is a coding-teaching schema exclusively designed for early learners. This model was inspired by the Bloom’s taxonomy and the GANAG schema and was developed after several years of Computer Science teaching experience along with active classroom research while serving children between the ages of 4 and 8 (Primary School).
BEAT SCHEMA ILLUSTRATION
This proposal aims to promote in-depth engagement in the Primary School years instead of just short-term programming lessons. BEAT will allow teachers to be more rigorous in terms of code literacy.
A Short History of this proposal
Back in 2018 I had the wonderful privilege to present at an International Conference with the theme “Stem and Coding Activities for K-2 students” I was quite surprised by how many teachers attended this presentation looking for guidelines on this specific topic. The main question was, when to start teaching coding? After we shared some experiences based upon successful teaching practices the best answer was “The sooner the better”. However, another inquiry still remained; how do we teach coding in the primary school years? We teachers needed a proper and simplified way to start including programming content since kindergarten.
I have always used Bloom’s taxonomy and the GANAG schema to design my curriculum units and lesson plans so I decided to use these approaches to enhance individual classroom research and build a sort of learning process framework to teach coding to early learners in an effective way.
BEAT SCHEMA EXPLAINED
The acronym BEAT stands for Bots & Blocks, Encourage Creativity, Add core subjects, and Teach new languages as students advance. I have used this model in every coding unit I have created and results have been more than satisfactory. Below you will find the explanation of every step and how it is connected to the Bloom’s Taxonomy.
BOTS & BLOCKS (Planting the seed)
Students start to understand logic, four to five commands and the difference between real things and fantasy around the age of four. Therefore, they are ready to start learning coding which involves pretty much these same skills. Children under the age of 6-7 learn a second or third language real quick. So why not coding, it is a language after all. We just need to use the right approach to teach it.
Nowadays the best way to introduce coding concepts and engage the little ones in an entry level programming is by having them play with proper child-friendly-robot toys . There are many affordable didactic bots in the market that help students to make computing thinking visible as they take their first coding steps in a motivating and active way. Some examples of this kind of tools are Bee-Bots, Botley The Coding Robot, Code & Go Robot mouse, among many others that are surely coming soon. All of these are basically colorful, easy-to-use programmable robots for young children that are just perfect for educators to teach simple programming concepts. These robots come with arrow keys to instruct them to move forward or backward or turn left or right. Click on the links below to see these devices in action.
Playing with these coding toys, in the first place, will allow students to acquire basic pre-programming concepts. Pupils will be able to understand that a program is basically a set of instructions, a sequence of short commands.
Once students have played with these bots and developed a certain level of expertise they will be ready to jump in the tools that use block-based languages which allow them to have a notion of basic coding tasks and build their first programs on a screen. There are many of these out there and they are basically visual programming editors that make students get familiar with diverse commands and programming concepts like operators, events, control, structures, and more. To code with these kind of platforms they just need to drag and drop small blocks and run the program when done. It is a whole lot easier than text-based programming which avoids students frustration in their initial coding steps. These tools could be used even by adults who never took coding classes before. If you lack previous experience, this is the perfect tool to pick up and learn to code in a pretty basic and relatively quick way.
These are some of the most known block based coding tools
Teaching to use Bots and Blocks is the first step on this schema. Students will have an understanding of coding and will remember basic functions – (First and second level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).
Once pupils learn the basics of coding, they can start facing some challenges. At this stage, the main mission of the teacher using this method is to come up with pretexts to encourage students’ creativity and keep them wondering what they could do with the acquired coding knowledge. When students become more skilled at using any given process, coding in this case, teachers can give them “student-directed tasks” (Marzano, 2000) — tasks that are less structured and that give students less guidance. This kind of task requires much more of students, but also gives them more freedom to create and think independently (Marzano, Gaddy, and Dean, 2000). Tasks you could assign could go from programming a simple trivia to a semi complex Video Game using some of the tools described in the first step of this schema. Check the videos below for examples of some programs K-2 students could create easily .
There are other kinds of challenges that facilitate learners’ inventiveness and problem solving skills. Platforms like Code.org and Kodable offer activities for students to fix a wrong code (sort of debugging) or change an existing code to make it more functional for instance. As a teacher, you could borrow some of these ideas or come up with your own. As stated above, it is the mission of educators using this model to provide children with scenarios for them to exploit their creativity and apply the acquired knowledge (Third Level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).
ADD CORE SUBJECTS
This step will make the coding experience more relevant as you connect diverse subjects to students’ creations. For example, if you are working on your Science Unit (living things) you could encourage students to program an interactive book describing facts about their favorite animal or have students code a Math Game to reinforce equations. You name it! Basically you could assign any programming challenge related to the topic you want to teach and the coding tool you are using. Below, some examples of integration projects using basic coding platforms.
This step will provide students with the opportunity to analyze not only their own creations (coding process), but also concepts related to the subject that is connected (Fourth Level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).
TEACH NEW LANGUAGES AS STUDENTS ADVANCE
Once students have gone through the previous steps, they will be ready to try real programming languages. In this phase scholars will have a clear understanding of what coding is and how they can use it in a more complex way. They will be ready to take baby steps towards text based programming with simple activities at the beginning. There are several engaging platforms that introduce children to the world of text-based code.
Below are other options to work with text-based coding in this last phase of the BEAT schema
These are great tools to wrap up this coding teaching schema for early learners. I am sure there will be many more to come as time goes by.
This last phase of the BEAT schema offers the opportunity to encourage students to continue exploring the programming world either if they are becoming coders or not. It is well known that coding empowers a set of skills useful for any field and jobs in the XXI century. This is the phase where students can start using their knowledge to create, for example, a simple app or a basic website. The main goal of an educator using the BEAT method is to have students develop computational and logical thinking and higher problem solving skills by building up from simple instructions with diverse tech tools. (Fifth and Sixth levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy).
As stated before, any adult without coding experience can follow this schema to learn the basics of coding in a timely fashion and “beat” up code illiteracy.
Note: Tech is evolving by the day, therefore the tools mentioned here are just suggestions. Educators using this model are free to include new resources as they come up and adapt The BEAT SCHEMA accordingly.
Suggested tools usage with this schema per grade level
The chart below along with the BEAT model will be beneficial for learners to go through a paced and steady progression to build a solid foundation in coding for K-2 students.
Robert J. Marzano, Barbara B. Gaddy, Ceri Dean (2000) What Works In Classroom Instruction. Retrieved from http://www.peecworks.org/peec/peec_research/I01795EFA.3/Marzano%20What_Works.pdf
Author of B.E.A.T. Model to Teach Coding to Early Learners, Google Certified Educator I& II,
International Presenter, M.Ed. Educational Technology,
STEM, Design Specialist, and ICT Teacher