Setting Up your Classroom for Coding Success

It's difficult to think about classroom set-up when you have other stuff on your plate, but I know that it's always easier to start something new in my classroom when I have a few concrete to-dos. I want to share some small steps for getting your classroom ready to teach coding so that you can focus on student learning and the wonderful new coding activities you're going to be trying out!

Keep reading for 5 tips on how to set up your classroom for coding success, as well as a classroom FREEBIE and an optional fundraising idea!

Note: This post contains product links. I was not paid to talk about these products, and I am not affiliated with the companies who make these products. These are just the materials that I use in my own classroom.

Tip #1: You will need a tablet.
If you don't already have a classroom tablet then beg, borrow, and ask multiple people at your school (admin, literacy facilitators, technology teachers).
Hint: use my post on alignment and assessment to support why you need a tablet, because a tablet can be a big ask for many schools.
While a desktop computer can also teach technology literacy, the mouse and keyboard are not as early-childhood friendly as a touch screen. Some teachers have had success trading with upper-grades teachers. For example, if you have a student desktop computer you may be able to trade with a fifth grade teacher for one of their tablets.
One tablet is really all you need, because whenever you are teaching a whole group lesson with the tablet you can just take it from tablet center. If you have zero tablets and have heard "no" from just about every source, you might also try to get a project funded on Donors Choose.
iOS and Android will both work for coding purposes, but I have only used iOS devices in the classroom so I can't speak to other tablets' ease of use.

And if you give a teacher a tablet...
Tip #2: You will want some tablet accessories.
I suggest getting some kind of cover for your classroom tablet. Again, beg, borrow, and ask multiple people at your school. We have OtterBox cases on our PreK tablets, which we've never had any problem with, but I realize that these are also pretty pricey. As long as you teach and re-teach how to be gentle with your classroom tablet, and your students only use it while sitting down at tablet center, you should be fine with a cheaper option or whatever your school has available.
You really need some way of displaying your tablet on a projector or Smart Board. This is the best way to teach interactive coding lessons in your classroom, because then all the students can watch each step of the coding process as it happens. If you have a document camera that you use for shared writing, it can also work for shared coding.
I use a 30-pin to VGA adapter to hook up our tablet to our class projector. It took me a while to figure this out so if you're like me and not good with cables I'll save you some time: I connect the adapter to where the projector cord would usually hook up to the back of your computer's CPU, and then put the other side of the adapter (the 30-pin) into my tablet. If you have a tablet that uses the newer "lightening" ports (the smaller ports on the bottom where you charge it) then you would need a lightening to VGA adapter. We're not lucky enough to have a Smart Board in our classroom, so I'm not sure if the newer Smart Boards already have a dedicated cable to connect to tablets.
Note: not all apps will be display-friendly. For example, if you buy a movie in iTunes and then try to watch it while cutting name tags in August, you will be highly disappointed. If you're only using it for coding, you will only need one app and it will display with no problems...

Tip #3: You will need to download the Scratch Jr app.
It's available in the App Store and in Google Play. They have a newer PBS KIDS version, but I think the only difference is that it has TV show characters (I haven't had a chance to try it out yet). There's an app called Scratch as well, but it's intended for older students.
Take a little time to play around with the app, and familiarize yourself with the teaching section of their website.

Tip #4: You will need a dedicated space for tablet center.
Tablet center does not need to be big or fancy. I do, however, think that students need table space to effectively work on the tablet. Eventually you will want to put out some writing materials at tablet (after clear instructions and modeling that pencils are for paper only, eek). You will also eventually want to have some coding "prompts" and other planning pieces in labeled bins. These materials take up a little more space than just the tablet on its own, and you also need room for two students to sit comfortably.
I use a Lakeshore workbench that looks like it was intended for woodworking (it has the hutch with the pegboard that we use to hang up our headphones). There's just enough space for two chairs at the table. (I would give you the dimensions but I can't find the product on the Lakeshore site anymore - it may have been discontinued)
As for where to put your tablet center, it really belongs on the quiet side of the room. I have mine right next to writing center because coding is writing.

Tip #5: You will want to establish procedures for your tablet center.
Unless chaos is your thing, you will need to manage how your students select tablet center during free choice and how long they are allowed to work there. My classroom also has to follow rules for early childhood screen time. If I didn't establish rules and procedures for tablet center I would lose my marbles trying to monitor each child's tablet use.
Decide on the rules you will teach for using the tablet. If you like cute posters for teaching rules there are some free ones here from Mrs Beattie's Classroom or here from Miss DeCarbo. I choose just two or three for my PreK students, and then I may want to attach real photos of students doing the right thing.
Honestly, I have never had many issues with students being disrespectful towards the tablet. We introduce the rules during morning meeting and then they are relatively gentle with it. We review the rules as a whole group as needed. Where I run into the most problems is in keeping track of which students have used up their 10 minutes of screen time.
I created a management system out of necessity, and I'm offering it to you for free because if it works for my classroom I bet it will help out a few more busy teachers.

I've tried sign-in sheets, but they really did not work for my students who are still learning to write their names. Now instead I teach my students to turn over the ten minute timer as soon as they sit down (we use this one from Lakeshore Learning). The picture of the orange timer on the "All Done" mat is a good visual reminder for my students (but I've included multiple colors in the download in case you use a different colored sand timer). I train students to move their Velcro picture onto one of the Velcro squares on the "All Done" mat when the timer runs out. That is the end of their tablet time for the day. At the end of the day you can put all the student pictures back in a little container, or you can assign this as a student job (yay independence!). I think there is something about using Velcro that the students really like (I have caught them playing with their friends' pictures on the mat a couple times, but that's a quick re-teach).

Optional Tip: You can fund raise for extra materials!
Lakeshore Learning is currently doing a Double Your Impact Offer for Donors Choose projects (this is open to North Carolina teachers, but be sure to check if you're in another state).
If you ask for one of their STEM bundles as part of your Donors Choose project, then Lakeshore Learning will match donations to your project. I'm currently waiting for my match offer, but I created a fund raising project containing the K-1 STEM bundle because it not only has great materials for my classroom maker space but also has a Bee-Bot which I think will be awesome for off-screen coding. I added a few extra Bee-Bots to my project because I have plans for a couple projects where we'll need multiple "characters," and I think it will be easier to use Bee-Bots in partner work rather than sharing one Bee-Bot in a small group lesson.
Hopefully my project will be funded! I've never tried Donors Choose before but I think this is a great opportunity to add some STE(A)M materials to your classroom.
Update: My project was fully funded! Unfortunately the Double Your Impact Offer is no longer available, but you can check out my post on fundraising for quick tips on getting the tech you need for your students.

Questions or ideas about setting up your classroom? Leave a comment below and happy coding!

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