Computer Science and Robotics in the Classroom

  

The Research: Why it Matters

Why should educators and administrators get excited about adding computer science to their K-12 curriculum?

1. Innovative, Inventing, and Expressive

2. Interdisciplinary and Cross Cutting

3. Encourages Critical Thinking

4. Engages Previously Unengaged Students

5. Fun and Rewarding for Students and Teachers

 

Computer science, coding, and robotics activities provide a tangible manifestation of logic and math skills for students at every grade level. These activities have also been proven to improve mathematical reasoning abilities, language, logic, and teamwork skills. Whether you are interested in starting an AP Computer Science course in your district or simply integrating coding and robotics activities into your elementary classroom, we’ve compiled the resources to set you and your peers up for success!


 

Computer Science and Robotics Activities By Grade Level

In the age of coding and robotics, there are an abundance of great products, lesson plans, games, and apps designed to elevate the classroom into a platform for all things tech. Below is a breakdown of some of the best resources available, curated by current STEAM undergraduate students who benefitted from them in their K-12 education. If you see an item or activity that would be perfect for your classroom, click the link under the activity column for more information!

Activity Grade Level Description Image
WowWee Elmoji Pre-School App controlled robot tests students memory and problem solving skills as they code actions using emojis. Perfect addition to your pre-school classroom as both independent and team STEM skill builder, even for pre-readers. 
Code & Go Robot Mouse  Pre-K through 2                  This activity set turns coding into a hands on activity for tactile and visual learners. Cards instruct students on maze configuration. After setup is complete, students program the robotic mouse to follow forwards, backwards, and turn commands to help him through the maze.   
Kodable Pre-K and up Students complete self guided lessons in this online game based resource. Includes 70 lesson plans complete with everything you need: vocabulary, instruction guidance, and student materials. Parents and students can even log in at home to complete assignments and have fun learning together.   
Scratch Junior Pre-K through 2 This iPad app allows children to snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters carry out a variety of actions. Students program interactive stories and games learning to problem solve, express creatively, and carry out the desing process along the way.    
Lightbot and Lightbot Jr.  Pre-K through 5 This online game teaches programming concepts with drag and drop blocks that control a character through a variety of obsticles. Students gain exposure to sequencing, overloading, procedures, recursive loops, and conditional statements with tihs fun, logic based game. Even fun for teachers who are beginners with coding concepts.   
Robot Turtles Pre-K through 2 No computer or tech in your classroom? This fun board game teaches the fundamentals of programming concepts tabletop. Turtles are commanded through the maze via programming cards until they reach their matching jewel. This is the perfect solution for the teacher that does not have easy access to computers or iPads, but still wants to introduce students to computer science and logic concepts from an early age!  
Dash and Dot Pre-K through 3 Dash and Dot is a programmable robot friend compatabile with 5 apps that teach children computer science logic. Complete with sound, movement, sensors, and lights this bot can learn new behaviors reaching as far as the imagination can go. This is the perfect edition to a station based learning set-up as students can store Dash and Dot's behaviors under personalized profiles.   
Makey Makey Pre-K through 4 Makey-Makey is a tool inspired by the maker space movement that allows students to turn everyday objects into keyboards, controllers, and displays. A favorite project is the banana keyboard, where clips are connected to bananas and programmed to emit a tone when pressed. Thousands of possibilities and a plethora of online resources mean that this activity can be customized to fit any classroom and any content area. Perfect for team projects, allowing students to identify applications they are excited about.   
Kano Grade 1-4  This kit allows students to develop a deep understanding of the hardware and software involved in computers. Kano offers a multitude of resources for educators including implementation guides, weekly projects, lesson plans for all abilities, training, support, and a network of other STEM innovators in education just like you!  
Hopscotch Grade 1-5 Hopscotch offers lesson plans connecting coding with math, science, english/language arts, and social sciences. Students code their own apps and games at a customizable level appropriate to them, publish them onto the server, and play their friend's creation. This resource is tailorable to fit multiple abilities within a classroom or school and is made specially for teachers who don't have any prior coding skills. Learn alongside your students in a way and engage them in a new way!   
Tynker Games Grade 1-8 Tynker offers free courses, easy to use tools, a comprehenzie STEM and coding curriculum, and extensive teacher resources. Whether you are looking to add computer science to your primary or middle school classroom, or starting a new CS program at your school this is THE resource for you. One feature is a catelog of Project Based Learning ideas that will help connect coding with content areas you are already familier with. Tynker even offers built in assessment and progress metric tools to track student learning.   
Sphero & Ollie Grade 2-6 Sphero and Ollie are programmable robots that meet students at their level of learning. Whether they are first time coders using drag and drop blocks or seasoned junior computer scientists using JavaScript, this product has something for everyone. Sphero and Ollie offers a network of STEM educators to share ideas and lesson plans, as well as bulk deals to provide hands on coding learning to your whole classroom.   
Code Monkey Island Grade 3-4 Code Monkey Island is a tabletop board game that teaches students assignment operations, boolean operators, basic conditional statements, strategic thinking, problem solving, and cooperation. Gameplay can be learned in under a minute and is perfect for a classroom or district lacking tech resources for students.   
Minecraft Education Edition Grade 4+ Minecraft is one of the most incredible tools for design, coding, and logic based learning. Students, whether they are familiar with the building and adventure game already or not, have endless oppurtunities to create. Minecraft Education Edition offers lessons in almost every subject including chemistry, coding, environmental science, storytelling/creative writing, engineering, math, and beyond. New lesson plans, resources, and ideas are shared every day on the site's educator network. Check out the Sample Plans and Additional Resources section for ideas to get you started!  
Lego Mindstorm Grade 4+ A veteran in the STEM and coding education toy market, Lego Mindstorm is a programmable robotics platform that allows students to create and control any physical system with LEGOs. Mindstorm comes with directions to build and program 17 robot configurations, as well as 10+ years of ideas, creations, and video tutorials from users around the world. Programming is drag and drop block based, making this hands on activity quick and easy for students to learn. Mindstorm is compatable with all computers, as well as phone/iPad apps.   
Gamestar Mechanic Grade 5+ Gamestar Mechanic is part video game, part game designer, part educational tool that allows students to learn and create at their own pace. Players go on quests to learn new content and unlock items that can be used in original game design. Players are then able to design their own games with an expansive library of characters and share them with a design community. Professional game design instructors offer lessons with this resource, as well as feedback on original designs.   
Game Maker Studio Grade 5+ This powerful game design engine allows students to use either a drag and drop method or a game maker language to script their games. This tool provides the perfect setup for team and project based learning. A popular application is requiring student teams to design a game to teach their peers content related to science, social studies, math, etc. as it relates to your course.   
Space Chem Grade 5+ In this game, students take on the role of a reactor engineer synthesizing chemicals in frontier colonies. . Construct elaborate factories to transform raw materials into valuable chemical products! Streamline your designs to meet production quotas and survive encounters with the sinister threats that plague SpaceChem.  
Spin Master Mechano M.A.X Grade 6+ Spin Master Mechano M.A.X integrated coding/robotics learning with the hot topic of artifical intelligence (AI). M.A.X. is programmable via physical buttons, voice command, and app, making it easy to integrate into any classroom platform. While this tool is simpler than LEGO Mindstrom, it's adaptive nature powered by (AI) offers something new for seasoned makers and future engineers.   
Alice Grade 6-8 Alice is an innovative block-based programming environment that makes it easy to create animations, build interactive narratives, or program simple games in 3D. Unlike many of the puzzle-based coding applications Alice motivates learning through creative exploration. Alice is designed to teach logical and computational thinking skills, fundamental principles of programming and to be a first exposure to object-oriented programming. 
Hummingbird Robotics Kit Grade 7+ Designed in collaboration between Carnegie Mellon's CREATE lab and Dr. Kristen Wendell from Tufts University, this robotics kit is compatable with a wide range of drag and drop style coding apps (Scratch, Snap, Ardublock), as well as Arduino, Python, Java, and Raspberry Pi for more advanced students. Possbilities for design/engineering with this project are endless. Get inspired by some of the example projects hosted on the site!  
Code Hero Grade 7+ Code Hero is a first person game that teaches players how to code by shooting their "code gun" loaded with the appropriate Javascript to change the world around them. Great self-paced resource for constructive free/enrichment time for students.   
The Coding Train on Youtube Grade 8+ This YouTube channel publishes creative and engaging coding video tutorials every week. Subjects covered range from the basics of programming languages like JavaScript (with p5.js) and Java (with Processing) to generative algorithms like physics simulation, computer vision, and data visualization.  
FIRST Robotics Grade 9+ Through LEGO Leagues and Robotics Competitions, this STEM Non-Profit offers a multitude of curricular and extracurricular outlets for students to explore their engineering, coding, and inventing potential. Consider teaming up with local engineers to start a team at your school this upcoming season!  
Minecraft EdX Course Grade 9+ This resource expands on Minecraft Education Edition (discussed above) for more advanced computer science students. This course is free and self paced to allow for a customizable learning expierience. Students can apply their learning to more advanced Minecraft coding and redstone design projects found in the Sample Lesson Plans and Additional Resources below.   
CSS Diner Grade 9+ This intuitive learning game teaches students CSS editing for HTML code through activities rather than videos or lecutres. This is a great enhancement for a basic HTML curriculum or a beginning activity for an AP Computer Science course.    
Grok Learning Grade 9+ This platform to learn how to code AND how to teach codingn was made by and for educators. Complete with lesson plans for multiple grade levels, lessons for educators, free content, and professional development tools. This resource also offers competitions to motivate student and teacher learners.   
Code Academy Grade 9+ This free resources features a structured curriculum complete with drills and assessments to teach highschool students (and even teachers) languages from basic HTML all the way to Python to SQL. Most lessons only take 11 hours to complete, making it easy to integrate into your classroom.   
Raspberry Pi  Grade 10+  Raspberry Pi is an electrical engineering and coding tool that allows students to create an unbounded world of projects of their own design. The tool has an immense community following, so finding project ideas applicable to your course content is easier than ever.   

Hour of Code

Now that you're armed with a plethora of computer science and robotics games, apps, programs, and resources, I have a challenge for you: to join the "Hour of Code" movement this year. Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify "code" to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1 hour coding activities, but expanding to all sorts of community efforts. 

The hour of code takes place every year during Computer Science Education week. Get started planning your classroom activites here


 

Professional Development and Licensing Opportunities for Educators

Teacher Computer Science Fundamentals: This free, online, self paced course is perfect for teachers who are hoping to begin developing an understanding of the subject. No prior computer science or coding knowledge is assumed. Content areas include:

  • Computer Science Basics
  • Best Practices for Teaching
  • Free Curriculum and Resources
  • Community building with other STEM educators

TUFTS University: Engineering Education and Professional Development for Teachers:  TUFTS is a leader in STEM Education research and development. From weekend workshops to masters/PhD programs, they offer options for everyone to expand their knowledge of robotics, computer science, and STEM teaching. 

Parralax Professional Development and Robotics for Education: Courses are a hands-on, immersive experience with microcontrollers, robotics, sensors, and programming. Includes customizable curriculum, teacher’s guides, and all the resources needed for a teacher to use our hardware in their courses. Coursework focuses on project based learning, leading to an easy integration of student projects into the classroom.

Hello World Magazine: Produced by the makers of Raspberry Pi, this computing and digital making magazine for educators will keep your coding and robotics curriculum up to date and inspired by projects and lesson plans from teachers like you. 

NASA Endeavor STEM Teaching Certificate Project: This program sponsored by NASA provides teachers with two options to enhance their knowledge in STEM and Computer Science competencies: a masters degree or a 3 course certificate program. Coursework focuses on project planning for students and action research. 

The Techie Teacher Blog: In this blog, Julie Smith shares her expieriences integrating Ed Tech into her classrooms. She offers professional development consulting, resources for educators, project ideas, and more. 


 

Grants and Funding Resources for Computer Science and Robotics Activities

STEM Grants and Funding Oppurtunities: This blog post includes a comprehensive list of grants and funding sources that specifically support STEM and Computer Science classroom and district initiatives.

STEM Grants: This resource breaks down funding sources by state, federal, and private grants so you can find the resource that matches your classroom needs.