Coding 4 Kids – AKA Having Fun While Learning Math & Problem Solving Skills

As a child, I hated math. Math time in elementary school felt like a forced march through worksheets and times tables. The math skills I was being force fed were completely unconnected to anything interesting or important to me at the time. Looking back from my current perspective, learning math skills would have been so much more interesting and engaging if instead of worksheets I had been challenged to make a computer game or program geometric shapes and as a by-product learned the math skills that were part of the school curriculum.

So where would I start if I were the parent of an elementary school-aged learner at home because of COVID-19? First off I’d go to the Hour of Code website, select the grade level of my child and then look for projects with her related to things she is already interested in. So when my son was younger we would have looked for an Hour of Code project related to dinosaurs. For my other son, we would have looked for something Minecraft related.

“Coding is a hands-on way of teaching students how to analyze a problem, determine the steps to fix it, and then create code so a machine can carry out those steps. It’s more than working with computers — it’s an approach and a way of problem-solving.” 

– Mike Bernier, Former B.C. minister of education in the Vancouver Sun

It is critically important to find a project related to something that you child is passionate about, or at least interested in, so including your child in the search for an interesting project is key. A couple of two Hour of Code projects that some kids might enjoy are:

  • Code with Anna and Elsa from Frozen: Make geometric shapes as you direct Anna or Else to skate around your screen.
  • Flappy Bird: Create your own custom version of the new classic flappy bird game. You can not only change what the “bird” is and background scenery, but can also modify the “rules” to make it a much different, and either more or less challenging game.
  • Star Wars – Building a Galaxy with Code: Learn to program droids, and create your own Star Wars game in a galaxy far, far away.

Below is a funny video that you can watch with your child that inadvertently illustrates how computers (or dad’s trying to be funny), do exactly what you tell them to comedic effect when you leave out steps that are obvious to most humans, which the computer, of course, does not know.

The goat condo ramp
The goat condo ramp for Jillian’s miniature goats

One of my daughters has never enjoyed math, however, when in grade 7 she learned some fairly advanced trigonometry in order to build a ramp into the playhouse in our back yard for the miniature goats that she was getting ready to purchase. In order to build the ramp we had to make sure the slope wasn’t too steep for the goats to climb, but at the same time, the lumber needed to be able to fit into our Prius. Digging deep into my memory I recalled a field trip I went on in grade 5 where we had calculated the height of a very tall tree using a tape measure and protractor. We then did some math to calculate the height of the tree. I couldn’t remember how to do the math but Googled a tutorial, and it turns out that we could use the tangent function to solve this problem.

Calculating the height of a tree using a tape measure, protractor and the tangent function.

While not excited about math, my daughter was excited about building a ramp for her goats’ new home. So we worked through the problem together, and she eagerly used trigonometry to make sure that the ramp wouldn’t be too steep, and that the lumber would be short enough to get into our home. This was a big win for everyone involved and helped her learn some advanced math as a byproduct.

I hope you can find some Hour of Code projects that can tap into some of the passions that your children already have!

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