While it’s a relatively new addition to education, coding is becoming an increasingly important skill for students to learn thanks to the world’s reliance on technology. However, it’s not always an easy subject for teachers to tackle. Coding involves a number of challenging concepts and techniques which can be difficult to effectively teach to students. This is not to mention that in many parts of the world, teachers have found that they’re being asked to teach subjects beyond what they usually teach.
However, the challenges of teaching students to code are definitely worth it. Not only is coding itself an extremely in-demand skill, but it can also teach students important transferable skills such as resilience, self-evaluation, and collaboration.
To help you teach your class to code more efficiently, here are some of the best tips for teachers to bear in mind in their coding classes. We hope this information will help teachers regardless of their personal skill background, and get everyone teaching coding to students much more easily.
Try out Zenva Schools with your students for free! Contact our team via this form and we’ll be in touch to set up your free access.
Start With The Core Concepts
While it can be tempting to jump right into actual coding projects, it’s not always the best idea – especially if you have students in your class with limited prior experience of coding. Instead, you should make sure everyone in your class is comfortable with the core concepts of coding.
You should walk your students through the principles that underpin coding before anything else. For example, teach them about syntax – get them thinking in terms of language and how grammar dictates the rules around structuring sentences to convey information, then apply this to code and how syntax helps deliver instructions and information to a program.
Other key concepts to introduce your class to include inputs, outputs, loops, conditional statements, variables, and functions. You need to make sure all the basics are covered – otherwise, your students will struggle to make much headway when it comes to practical coding.
Think of it like teaching a child to read – you wouldn’t start them off with Shakespeare, you’d give them a simple picture book and work upwards from there as they begin to learn how language works. Similarly, giving your students a solid foundation in the theory behind coding will help them to approach their first practical exercises with much more confidence and success.
Keep Things Practical
With the above being said, you can’t spend all your time on theory – your students will need to put the coding concepts they learn into practice at some point. Practical learning is essential to coding, so make sure you introduce a variety of practical activities to keep things engaging and allow your students to gain confidence in their coding abilities.
This doesn’t necessarily even have to involve actual coding projects if your students aren’t yet at a stage where they’re confident enough for real coding. Using practical real-world activities can be just as beneficial – for example, your students can use a deck of cards with different instructions on them to “program” another student through a maze or instruct them to complete other simple tasks.
If your students have started real coding, projects like creating a game, app, or website can be good long-term activities for them to engage in and continuously improve upon so that they have a visible representation of their progress. This can help to boost their confidence at the same time as giving them practical coding experience.
Make Use Of External Resources
You don’t have to do everything yourself when you’re teaching your students to code – in fact, it’s often better to get some outside help. Luckily, there are thousands of websites and organizations that offer helpful resources for coding teachers.
From lesson plans and activity ideas to full-blown online coding courses, there are all manner of resources available online to make your classes more effective (and your life a lot easier). To get you started, here are some of the best options to consider using in your classroom.
Zenva Schools (& Zenva Academy)
Zenva Schools is a platform designed specifically with schools and teachers in mind. The platform provides a wide range of beginner-level coding courses perfectly suited to high school students, and has many game development-oriented classes to help make the process of teaching coding more engaging. These courses cover a wide range of subjects and programming languages, allowing you to introduce a lot of variety into your curriculum.
The platform offers tons of teaching resources to make the process easier, including video lessons from industry professionals, quizzes and live coding exercises so students can practice their skills, course notes to help summarize and provide quick references to learned material, and more.
In addition to all this, the platform, being aimed at teachers, provides easy ways for teachers to create classrooms, manage students, and even track student project with easy-to-use reporting tools – meaning no extra work having to make sure students are doing their assigned tasks!
All told, Zenva Schools is a brilliant resource for teachers looking to bring fun new approaches to coding into the classroom.
For teachers looking for professional development resources, you might also try out Zenva’s main consumer site Zenva Academy instead. Zenva Academy offers an extensive library of courses that cater to all experience levels and includes much of the same amazing content and features found on Zenva Schools. However, the scope on Zenva Academy goes far more in-depth and is geared more towards adult learners, making it a perfect way for teachers to enhance their own skills first.
Code.org provides a free online library of one-hour coding activities for students of all ages. Beginners and younger learners can make use of simple block-based coding exercises to introduce them to the principles of coding, while more advanced students can take on more complex text-based coding projects.
The site’s library of activities largely revolves around creating apps and games, which are a great way of keeping students engaged by helping them to create something they’re already familiar with. Code.org is also partnered with big-name brands like Disney, meaning there are tons of activities themed around recognizable characters and franchises to appeal even more to young students.
Scratch is one of the most widely-used and well-known classroom coding tools. It uses block-based coding to help beginners with no prior coding experience become familiar with the basics of coding.
It’s completely free, and also offers a library of ready-made tutorials and activities that instruct students on how to create simple projects like maze games, interactive stories, and animations. On top of this, the site provides extra lesson ideas and guidance for teachers to help them use Scratch effectively in the classroom.
Coding isn’t necessarily a solo endeavor – in fact, it often involves whole teams working together on projects. As such, it makes sense to get your students working together, too. Collaborative work offers a number of benefits for your students, and can also help to offer a more effective structure to lessons if your class size doesn’t allow for much one-on-one instruction.
Setting group work means that your students can support and learn from each other at the same time as developing their coding skills and learning to work as a team. One particularly effective example is Pair Programming.
Pair Programming involves pairing up two students of different ability levels. Pairs are set a series of tasks to carry out, with one student writing the code while the other provides instructions and support, swapping at regular intervals.
This approach benefits both learners – the less experienced student in a pair can strengthen their coding skills with support from their partner, while the more experienced student enhances their own understanding by having to explain techniques and principles to someone else.
Collaborative approaches like Pair Programming are extremely effective for coding classes, freeing you up to work with the students who need the most help while ensuring other students aren’t left without support.
Don’t Bombard Students With Different Languages
While different programming languages all have their own uses and it can definitely be valuable to learn multiple different languages, it’s important not to overwhelm your students. Rather than covering multiple languages at once, it’s better to start teaching your students in one specific programming language and stick to it until they’re truly proficient in it.
It’s true that there are transferable skills that can be learned from one programming language and then applied to another, but your students are less likely to grasp these skills if they’re struggling to keep up with the different rules, principles, and syntax of multiple languages. Instead, it’s better for them to master one language and then apply this mastery to new ones.
As such, you should wait until you’re confident your students have mastered the first programming language you introduced them to before you move on to a new one. Once they’ve mastered one language, they can use it as a solid foundation for learning new ones.
Know When To Step Back
Part of learning to code is learning to solve problems. Because of this, you can’t always be on hand to provide a solution whenever a student gets stuck. Teaching coding effectively means knowing when to step back and let a student work out the answer for themselves.
Beginners will definitely need you to hold their hand more frequently to avoid them simply giving up. For more experienced students, though, you need to be able to gauge when they genuinely need help and when they just need a nudge in the right direction to figure things out for themselves.
This doesn’t mean you can’t help your students when they get stuck or offer advice and support as they work – it just means you should try not to coddle your students unnecessarily. Your students need to learn to problem-solve independently, and pushing through a rough patch will teach them resilience while giving them an exciting, rewarding breakthrough to motivate themselves in the future.
Think Like A Beginner, Not An Expert
Coding novices and experienced programmers approach tasks in very different ways, so you need to bear this in mind when running tutorials and demonstrations. While you may know shortcuts and special techniques for coding more quickly and efficiently, it’s more helpful to work through projects slowly and methodically so that your students get a firm grasp of what you’re doing and why.
This extends throughout the coding process. While you might be able to spot a mistake in code from a mile away, your students are likely to be less efficient when debugging. Rather than just pointing out errors, ensure your students understand why specific pieces of code may be causing an issue.
As the teacher, it’s natural to assume the role of the expert in the classroom. But to provide the support your students need, it’s usually more helpful to think like a novice than a coding aficionado.
Keep Students Involved In Tutorials
PowerPoints and printed guides have their uses, but they shouldn’t be the extent of your instructions to learners. It’s far better to show students how to do something than just to tell them, so make sure that your teaching methods actively involve them in the process.
One effective option is to carry out a live coding task. Showing the coding process in motion is likely to be much more informative than simple instructions on a screen or piece of paper. It’s also a good way of hammering home other lessons such as the fact that it’s okay to make mistakes – if you make an error here or there, you can involve students in the diagnosis process to help them understand what went wrong and learn from mistakes.
You can also periodically ask students to predict what effect certain actions or pieces of code will have. Doing so gets them to actively apply what they’ve learned to the situation at hand, keeping them engaged and thinking critically about the code you’re working on.
Engagement is crucial in any subject, but it’s especially so in coding due to its highly practical nature. You should therefore make sure that everything you do actively involves your students on some level so that they stay tuned in and learn effectively.
Coding can be a difficult subject to teach, but with the right approaches and tools, it can be extremely rewarding. The above guidance should help you to bring coding into your classroom and make it an interesting, engaging subject that your students can excel at. Just like your students, though, you should always be learning – so make sure to keep doing your research on new ways to improve your coding lessons.
Whatever your approach, though, we hope these tips will help anyone who needs to teach coding create a lesson plan that works for their students’ needs, meets their educational standards, and helps instill life-long skills for students’ future careers.
If you’re from a K12 school and want to try out our platform, fill out the form below.
We’ll organize a free trial so you can test it out with your students in class!