Robotics and Coding

Robotics is part of St. Thomas’ computer science curriculum starting in pre-kindergarten and going all the way through to eighth grade. The students get to try out different types of robots which are age-appropriate. Our philosophy is to start students at a very young age to understand the computational thinking. Later on, we start introducing block coding language so they’ll get to design a program on a computer, which will then control the robot going from the software side on the screen to actually seeing the robot move. It’s a really big journey for students. Coding is important for all of our students, not that we want all of our students to be programmers, but because we want them to learn the skills that go along with programming such as the analytical thinking, organizational skills, and creativity. Our STEM robotics and coding curriculum prepares students with 21st century skills to be productive and contribute in the classroom and in life.

Our coding programming emphasizes:

  • Working in pairs
  • Troubleshooting
  • Dealing with failure
  • Organizational skills
  • Project planning skills
  • Learning how to figure something out and bring it to completion

The Benefits of Learning Coding at a Young Age

The benefits of coding extend far beyond creating software and websites. Before students start working with software, they learn computational thinking skills, which is the ability to approach a problem in a structured and logical way. Applying computational thinking can help students reach solutions that they may not have seen if they hadn't broken down the problem in a methodical manner.

The storytelling aspect of coding can also benefit students' written and oral communication skills. In coding, there is a logical beginning, progression and ending to the program, just like a story. These skills can benefit students' writing.

Additionally, since coding can be challenging at times, students learn to persevere through setbacks and failures. This resilience will help them succeed as they undertake increasingly challenging classes throughout their academic journey.

Coding at St. Thomas School

Coding is like learning a language: it's easier to become fluent at a young age. At STS we introduce simple coding in preschool to help students understand that at its core, coding is a set of instructions. Preschoolers work with a Kibo robot and its basic wooden programming blocks to code simple instructions such as forward, light on and stop. From there, students move on to visual educational programming languages such as Scratchwhich involves putting pre-written code in the right order to create interactive stories and animations.

In middle school, students progress to text-based coding such as JavaScript in which they write their own code. At this stage, one tool we use is Bitsbox, a subscription service that provides monthly coding projects for 6 – 14 year-olds. Students love it because it comes with the code to quickly create their own apps. Then it stretches their thinking by giving them challenges to change or enhance the app by modifying and expanding the code on their own.

We also recently partnered with Microsoft to introduce Micro:bit mini computers to our elementary and middle schoolers. The little devices are open development boards that allow students to run code on them to create everything from robots to musical instruments. Micro:bit computers give students the ability to get creative with coding – students use them to create micro insects, guitars and bracelets that are programmed to play games such as "Rock, Paper, Scissors."

Students with an affinity for coding can take a deeper dive into the concepts they learn in class by participating in after-school coding clubs. In coding club, students choose their projects so they can explore the concepts that are most interesting to them with mentorship and guidance from teachers and other students. For example, a third grader coded STS's humanoid NAO robot to ask his classmates multiplication problems and tell them whether their answer is right or wrong.

Teaching children to code at a young age helps them develop fundamental skills that will benefit them in whatever career they choose to pursue. We plan on continuing to integrate coding activities into the curriculum at STS in fun new ways, and we're excited to see the creativity and learning that will take place as a result.