Adding a ‘Dash’ of Programming to the Elementary Classroom

Split Rock Fifth Graders CodingDuring this past school year, many elementary students in the District from kindergarten through fifth grade experienced what it is like to be a computer programmer.

Students learned programming concepts using the website They also used the web-based program Scratch to create games and bring their “sprites” to life. Dash the Robot provided opportunities for kindergartners and first graders to learn to use blocks of code to make Dash the Robot dance, say silly things, and play Marco Polo.

Computer programming, or coding, gives students exposure to a skill that is in high demand. Technology is all around us and programming helps students to better understand what it is and how it works. Even if the students decide that programming is not their thing, the skills learned in these activities embrace the four C’s of learning: communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. These experiences also help students across the curriculum to become better problem solvers.

Barb Ritch helps Student with Technology
Information Systems Coordinator and Director of Student-Centered Technology Initiatives, Barb Ritch, assists East Hill Elementary School kindergartner, Ja’Meek Smith-Walker use technology with a programming activity.

Information Systems Coordinator, and Director of Student-Centered Technology Initiatives, Barb Ritch, started programming activities in the classroom during the 2016-2017 school year. At that time she introduced over 500 students to programming; this year that number has more than doubled.

The most popular activity is the Hour of Code, which is sponsored by It is a global movement to expose students to computer science and programming. Depending on the grade level, the students navigate a Moana programming adventure on or Box Island, a free app on the iPad.
Teachers were invited to contact Ritch if they were interested in their class participating, and the interest increased from eight classrooms last year to over 28 classrooms this year.

Ritch shared, “It is important for kids to be exposed to computer programming at a young age when their minds are open and no biases have been established. Any amount of exposure is beneficial. So these Hour of Code activities are awesome! The kids can save the links and continue with the activities during their free time in class.”

OR Fourth Graders CodingShe has also worked twice a week since October with a group of fourth graders at Onondaga Road Elementary School. They used to learn programming concepts such as loops and conditionals. Then they moved on to where they could let their creative juices flow and create a program from the ground up. They are finishing the school year with Hopscotch, a programming app on iPads.

It has been reported that there has been a drastic decline of women in computer science since the mid 1980’s. So in January, the East Hill Girls Can Code Club started. Classroom teachers Danielle Tuttle and Ashley Greco along with Ritch met with the girls for ten weeks. There were 60 girls from second to fifth grade who learned about programming by creating programs in Scratch and programming Dash the Robot to dance, race, and play the xylophone.
Each week students were asked to write a reflection in their journals. Some of the comments included:

“Wow! Scratch is awesome! There are so many different things you can do! It is so fun! I can’t wait to start!”

“I like the project because it gave me challenges. When things got hard I persevered and did it.”

“I really liked coding the robots to do human things!”

“What I have liked so far about this experience is teamwork and having fun with Scratch and Dash & Dot.”

Ritch added,“I love teaching the kids about programming! They are so uninhibited. The kids will try things in their programs that I would never have thought of doing. I am always learning from them. Their enthusiasm and excitement when their program works is exciting to see.”

Computer programming can be challenging. The students learn how to debug their programs and tweak them so that they will produce the results they want. Patience and perseverance quickly become skills the students learn, which will help them to be successful.