Module Four: Integrating Coding Lessons into the Curriculum


Coding as a Tool Set (Not a subject!)

One of the easiest ways to incorporate coding into your existing curriculum and lesson plans is to think about coding tools like Scratch or web development as project or presentation tools rather than as a separate subject. When you make the technology a part of your project goals, you're helping to give students an authentic context in which to practice their new computer skills! There are a few big benefits to this, for both you and your students.

Authentic Context

When your students leave the K-12 world and move on to either higher education or the workforce, they will not be producing coding projects just for the sake of coding. Even if they study Computer Science in college, these classes are much more likely to be theoretically oriented around language development and pushing the capabilities of computers, and sometimes offer very little in the way of practical coding experience.

Instead, when students create digital products with code, it will be to meet some other, more practical goal, such as creating an online resume or website to showcase their skills, where they will undertake coding with and end goal in mind.

We can recreate this in the classroom by converting existing projects into coding projects with the same curricular learning goals. This helps to prepare students to navigate technology questions within a larger project goal, which helps to motivate them and drive their decision making for the coding part of their project.

Modern Projects, Less Real Estate

Looking back on my own experience as a K-12 student, I remember working on a never-ending barrage of physical projects at the dining room table, which then had to be transported to school, and which my teachers usually took home to grade. I have build shoebox dioramas, a never-ending series of trim-fold poster board projects, and even a California Missions model project that took up most of the back seat of my mother's car. My younger sister would later try to recreate the original landscape of Disneyland in a similar fashion. That project still lives in a closet in my mother's house.

These projects can be very stressful and time-consuming for kids, parents, and teachers, and they often involve additional expenses outside of the regular allotment of school supplies. While I'm positive I'm not the only one, I will also sheepishly admit that I often notified my mother of these projects near-enough to the last minute to make finding supplies more difficult than it needed to be.

Using coding, it's possible to design projects that utilize very similar guidelines and rubrics for a digital project, thereby giving students the opportunity to learn about their topic and sharpen their coding skills at the same time. Even within Scratch alone, there are a ton of possibilities!

Coding as Creativity

Many people don't think of creativity when they think of computer programming, but there are tons of opportunities to be creative when creating digital projects. In Scratch specifically, students can create their own sprites and backdrops to build any project they can possibly dream up, including detailed animation that are completely their own. Here are some examples of creative or artistic project built in Scratch.

  • Azul's Destiny (Prologue) - This project is a fictional story with artwork created by the project's maker, including the sprites, backdrop, and the costumes used for animating the characters.
  • Wolf - Animated - This animation is made up of sprites created by the project creator rather than Scratch's built in sprites.
  • Floppy Ears"_Fanart for Yunnie2005 - Floppy Ears is a common meme on Scratch where Scratchers create their own sprites and costumes to make a music video with an animated animal dancing to a song.
  • Escape the Haunted Castle - A locked-room style escape game with user-created sprites and backdrops, and a story line to make things interesting.

Coding as Authorship

A lot of Scratchers use Scratch projects to share their stories and other creative writing with the community. Here are some examples of text-based and animated stories on Scratch.

  • When These Walls Speak - A creative writing project written by a high school student for a school project.
  • My Story - A scratcher share's her story of how learning to build projects in Scratch changed her life.
  • Coming Out Story - This student uses Scratch to tell the story of how he came out of the closet to his friends and then his parents, and shares his thoughts on homophobia with the community.

Putting Math into Action

Coding and math go together like peanut butter and jelly - which makes sense when you know that computer programming was invented to automate (and speed up) the processing of data, such as census returns.

  • Quadratic Solver - This game allows you to input numbers into a quadratic equation and calculate the results.
  • Calculator - A functional calculator created using Scratch!
  • 10-Spiro 8-S8 - This project is based on a challenge to draw an interesting picture with very little code, and creates a six-sided overall geometric shape made up of six spirals with angled lines. You could remix this project and change the values for the angles and lines to make different shapes! (Here are some other examples of the same game: 10-Spiro 9-S9, 11-Spiro 2-S2.)
  • Math-race - Math Race is a game where you race your own snail against other snails on the screen by answering math problems. Users even get to select the difficulty of their problems and the operators they want to include in the game! The need to work quickly makes the game more interesting, which helps motivate players to keep trying!

Science Projects and Games

History and Civics Projects

In these projects, students and educators use their technical skills and their social studies learning to create engaging projects that help teach other about important leaders and movements in United States history!

  • Notorious RBG! Game - This game shows you some of the landmark rulings that Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been a part of while playing a fun game.
  • Cesar Chavez Activist - In this Scratch story, you'll learn about the life and work of farm worker's rights activist Cesar Chavez.
  • Chinese American Civil Rights - This Scratch presentation teaches viewers about the fight for Chinese American rights in the United States.
  • Civil Rights Movement Quiz - This project teaches players about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and finishes with a quiz so you can test your knowledge!

Projects That Defy Categorization

As you might notice if you browse through the projects above, many of the projects I've included defy categorization, or at least could easily be put in multiple categories.

Take a look at this biographical project about Katherine Johnson, for example. Not only does it include Johnson's biography, it also contains historical information about NASA and segregation policies, instruction on how to solve math problems, and math quiz questions throughout. This project could easily go into the math section or the social studies section, not to mention the coding skills students can learn in building a project like this.

This project provides a digital model of the crystal lattice structure of a Sodium Chloride Ion. Making a project like this not only requires a good understanding of the molecules structure, but to create a model that can be rotated also utilizes a lot of geometry as well, along with strong spacial reasoning skills. This project is pretty advanced for K-12 students and requires a very strong understanding of coding logic, but it's a remarkable example of how an authentic coding project can push students to develop their understandings in multiple subject areas.

The Superbug Simulator project demonstrates how antibiotic resistance can happen when antibiotic medications are used improperly. The game includes random mutations that cause resistance to the available antibiotics, which are shown by different colored bacteria on the screen, and the player must decide when and how to treat the bacterial infection based on the kind of bacteria they see. Players not only see that resistance can result from random mutation, they can see the impact of waiting too long to treat a bacterial infection, of choosing the wrong drug, or of failing to treat until the infection is completely gone (and leaving resistant bacteria behind to proliferate)!

In short, there are many ways to design Scratch projects for your students that combine multiple subject areas in addition to purposeful planning and design of digital projects!

A Classroom Full of Teachers

Some research suggests that the act of creating an instructional digital game (referred to a DGA, or digital game authorship) could have great learning benefits for students, including the strengthening of critical thinking skills, and increased academic achievement in the subject area taught by their games. In an article titled Empowering students through digital game authorship: Enhancing concentration, critical thinking, and academic achievement (2013), authors Ya-Ting Carolyn Yang and Chao-Hsiang Chang compared two classes of students taught by a collaborative team of teachers from both biology and computer science disciplines. One class created Flash animation projects to teach biology concepts, while the other class built digital role playing games to teach the same concepts. They found that the students who built digital games scored better on academic achievement and critical thinking, both on immediate posttests, and on delayed posttests (p. 342). In summarizing their findings, the authors note that

   [This] study demonstrates that DGA can be used to enhance subject-specific content (i.e., biology) while simultaneously fostering information and communication technology (ICT) skills and meeting curricular goals for computer science. This is a crucial finding, given the fact that our biology academic achievement tests were based on standardized national curriculum objectives. For schools facing increasing pressures to meet standardized testing goals, the viability of DGA for fostering concentration and critical thinking in addition to academic achievement outcomes is a promising result (p. 343).

Another team, Amanda Peel and Patricia Friedrichsen, developed a lesson plan that introduced AP Biology students to computational thinking and algorithm design before guiding them through the process of building a Scratch game to replicate the process of protein synthesis translation. Student responses indicated that the algorithm and game design processes helped them to refine their understanding of protein synthesis translation and clarify the details of complimentary base pairing (p. 27).

Using digital game authorship combines computational thinking principles with the curricular goals from other subject areas and requires your students to think more deeply about what they have learned in order to create a game that teaches players about their topic. Rather than just memorizing the material they are given, they must think about ways to explain it to others, devise assessments and questions to help players evaluate their own understanding, and coordinate educational goals with overall game design to produce a game that is interesting and engaging for their audience of learners.

Reflection and Community Building

Did looking through the projects in this module help give you ideas for ways to include coding projects in your classroom? Do you want to see what ideas other educators have come up with during their learning process?

Come share your ideas with us in the forum!

Module Navigation Links

Module Three: Coding to Learn and Learning to Code | Module Five: Reflections and Next Steps

Get in Touch!

Are you interested in learning more, or continuing the coding conversation with other educators? You can get in touch with me via my website at I would love to hear any feedback you have about my mini-course!