Stratford School Promotes Coding Concepts for Youngest Students

As Hour of Code ramps up across classrooms around the world, a private system of California schools said it would be running coding events in all of its elementary and middle school grades, from grades pre-K-8. Stratford Schools, an independent private school with 18 campuses in the San Francisco area and two planned for Los Angeles, recently earned the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway digital seal for excellence in education.

The Hour of Code, promoted by the non-profit promotes the idea of giving every student access to concepts of computer science as a part of every school's curriculum. During one week each year, it puts a major emphasis on adding coding to educational activities and partners with major technology companies including Apple, Google and Microsoft to host special events online and in person. This year, the Hour of Code week runs December 7-13.

At Stratford School teachers have planned appropriate activities for each grade level:

  • Stratford School preschoolers will participate in "unplugged" activities from that are aligned to preschool learning abilities, for example, linking "giving directions" to an algorithmic thinking activity;
  • Kindergarteners will be paired with fourth grade buddies to build structures that "must complete a task," such as reaching a certain height or bearing a certain weight; then they'll discuss the idea of persisting even "when things get complicated";
  • First graders will have offline activities, such as learning about how they use algorithms in real life, as when they make paper airplanes. Online they'll design "candy troll" characters and go on quests for candy using those creations while also learning programming concepts such as loops and conditional statements. They'll also stack command blocks together to create a form of Angry Birds;
  • Second and third graders will do "graph paper programming" by coloring squares on graph paper to reproduce existing pictures; they'll also run the candy quest and a program that uses basic geometry and coding to command a spaceship to draw patterns and shapes;
  • Fourth and fifth graders will run a relay race in the form of graph paper programming images and perform other activities using MIT's Scratch and Microsoft Small Basic; and
  • The middle school students will undertake multiple challenges with Scratch, Python, HTML and Java, Carnegie Mellon's Alice and MIT's App Inventor.

In October the school system earned the Excellence Pathway recognition for its work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Schools earn the digital seal through a self-assessment in six areas: teacher qualifications, curriculum, instructional practices, assessment and demonstration of skills, family engagement and real-world connections. After the assessment, a school selects up to three areas to prioritize and then formulates a timeline and an action plan to address those goals. Following that, the cycle continues with new self-assessment and new planning.

At the time of the award, Stratford Founder Sherry Adams said in a statement, "It is an exciting time for Stratford School, as we emerge and advance the work in STEM education for our preschool through middle school students." Stratford said it was the first school system in California to earn the Carnegie STEM Excellence Seal.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.