Alignment and Assessment

One of my 5-year-old students, a little girl who is a dual-Spanish-and-English learner, had called me to tablet center so that we could collaborate on a project. I asked her a few questions and learned that she was using Scratch Cat's "shadow" as her character (she had filled in a picture of Scratch Cat using the black paint tool). We had just read the book Dreams by Ezra Jack Keats and we had experimented with flashlights to see why the paper mouse's shadow might have grown in the book.
"What's his shadow going to do?" I asked. I had to ask a twice, because she was very intent on finding a particular block of code.
 "Do bigger and bigger," she replied, still tweaking her code. She had placed an up arrow instead of a down arrow and was struggling to delete the mistake.
 "He's getting bigger and bigger? Why is he getting bigger?" I asked.
 "Because he's getting more at the light," the student answered. She then added a picture of the sun below Scratch Cat's shadow and tested her code.
(screenshot from the ScratchJr app)
From her coding conference I learned that this student can plan and then talk about her creations, a symbolic representation skill. She can work through problems. She can generate ideas from the work of others. She can talk about her work with a teacher, using her code as a scaffold for higher-level ideas that are difficult to express in her second language. My next step with this student might be to model shadow changes again and have this student trace the growth patterns as the object moves closer to the light. I could then see if clearer patterns emerge in her coding practice (a down arrow block, a grow block, a down arrow block, a grow block).

All this sounds great as anecdotal support for coding in the classroom, but you really need to have alignment documents readily available.

Why align your tech teaching?
  1. To get tech tools - if you can't explain why you need them in a school with limited resources, then they will go to someone who can!
  2. To support your planning - coding should be something that merges seamlessly with other instructional areas in your classroom. This will help students to more easily understand concepts, and will help you to not spread yourself too thin.
  3. To make assessment easier - begin with the end in mind! If you don't have goals for students to reach by the end of the year, how will you assess their progress during the year?
  4. To clarify your classroom priorities and values - coding does not necessarily have to be your BIG thing for the year, but if you're using it then it should support your guiding vision of teaching and learning.
  5. To speak up for yourself in evaluations - if your principal has marked that you don't purposefully use technology in your classroom, do you have evidence to support how you've met that standard? Principals cannot be everywhere and it can be difficult to understand the purpose of coding just from an hour-long observation.

Below is an example of how I've aligned our PreK standards (NC Foundations) with my goals for teaching coding in PreK (the 5 attributes from my Profiles of Early Coding Learners). I have also included relevant math and literacy standards so that I can easily pull them when writing my coding lesson plans. You are welcome to download this for your personal use if you use NC Foundations (hey North Carolina PreK teachers!) or you can use it as a guide for finding your own standards that align well with coding in the classroom.

Though these standards are summative goals, and might not be reached in all projects or by all students at the same time, these lists give me more specific guides when I incorporate coding in my lesson plans. In the example above, the student had been practicing coding for seven months and had a solid grasp of other means of symbolic representation, including letters and numbers. We might work on some of the standards mapped to being a Problem Solver if she continued this project, but other standards under Flexible Thinker, Communicator, Purposeful, and Risk Taker align to the work she had already done.

We also started using Teaching Strategies Gold this year for assessment, and our goals for teaching coding map well to many of the progressions:

Alignment Chart (Profiles of ECLs and Teaching Strategies Gold)
 Attribute 1: Flexible Thinker
11d, 11e, 12b, 18a, 18c
 Attribute 2: Communicator
2c, 3a, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9d, 14a, 19b
 Attribute 3: Purposeful
1c, 11a, 11b
 Attribute 4: Problem Solver
3b, 11c
 Attribute 5: Risk Taker
12a, 24, 28, 29

Coding as a means of creating is a powerful tool for young children. Not only can it help students to develop their cognitive skills across subject areas, but it can also help students to express themselves (their interests, their beliefs, and their self-perceptions). I think it's important that we are able to defend creating through technology as "academic" work - and this is possible through alignment with relevant standards. However, early childhood educators know the importance of promoting social and emotional learning (SEL). Let's not forget to also emphasize SEL to visitors to our classrooms. Technology is one tool for giving students choice and agency, and we can know our students better as people through its use.

Note: If you use Common Core (CC) as your standards, here is an article from Tara Linney about mapping coding activities to CC. I also think many of the The College and Career Readiness standards and The Standards of Mathematical Practice could be easily mapped to most coding-to-learn activities. Additionally, Kodable Blog has a resource guide for CC alignment.

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