20 ideas for teaching coding in math, science, social studies, and ELA
curriculum specialist, Pitsco Education
Here are some ways to help students gain coding and other essential skills
You might think coding is a novel trend that doesn’t have other applications beyond programming, but coding offers many connections to multiple subjects, with the added benefit of reinforcing essential 21st-century skills. In coding, students use computational thinking and critical thinking to solve problems. This involves mastering the skill of perseverance, as they must be willing to fail, troubleshoot, and try again in order to have the code execute what was intended. Through this process, students are recognizing errors and determining how to fix them.
Here are a few ways teachers can integrate coding into the core subjects, while also fostering important 21st-century skills.
Coding can help students visualize abstract concepts through concrete examples. They make sense of problems and persevere on a task. They can break down a problem into smaller parts to achieve the goal of solving the challenge.
Students apply logic, determine and understand variables, and develop algorithmic functions to solve coding challenges. It encourages them to think how they can create an algorithm of a series of steps to create a solution. Connections are then made to basic algebraic concepts.
Sample math applications:
- Calculate the wait time needed in the program for the robot to travel a specific distance.
- Determine the set score counters by evaluating how many times a loop will repeat.
- Program a robot to specific coordinates on a grid and plot those points on a graph.
- Code a robot to make different geometric shapes and patterns.
With coding, students can make hypotheses about how they expect their program to perform. They can plan an experiment and use trial and error to get their program correct. Students will also analyze data from different experiments and recognize patterns as they form.
Students should code with purpose and have a plan and explanation for what they have coded. A great first step is to ask students to write out a series of the steps to solve the challenge—without coding it yet. This thought process helps students better understand the purpose of their activity.
Sample science applications:
- Identify the coding challenge and use problem solving to find the solution.
- Write and conduct experiments following the scientific method while coding the robot.
- Calculate the speed of the robot by measuring its distance and time traveled to its endpoint.
- Determine the force of the robot by calculating its acceleration and measuring its mass.
English language arts (ELA)
There are a lot of ways to include coding in reading, writing, and communication. Students can practice speaking and listening skills when they work together on coding projects to create a solution. You can have students present their solutions and explain the coding steps and the purposes they serve.
Students can practice writing skills by writing the steps they will code to solve the challenge or by writing a story connecting the solution to a real-life scenario. For example, coding a robot to travel the shortest distance along roads to a destination would be the same for a mail carrier delivering a package.
You could have students read different stories and pick out the steps followed by the main character. The students could code their robot to perform actions that simulate steps followed by the main character. For instance, the robot could represent a goat trying to cross a bridge and avoid a troll.
Sample ELA applications:
- Code a robot to travel in or draw the shape of a letter.
- Code the robot to spell a word or name.
- Create a letter map that the robot can travel from letter to letter for letter recognition or spelling of words.
- Write a story about your robot and then code the robot to perform actions based on the different pages or scenes in the book.
- Create a treasure map for the robot that it has to collect different clues to get the treasure. Write a story about the robot’s journey.
Social studies involves different areas of subjects including geography, history, and citizenship. Many civic issues are multidisciplinary in nature, so you can provide real-world scenarios that the students can simulate coding solutions.
If students have a robot that they can code movements to, you can have the robots navigate a wide variety of maps. You can take existing maps and overlay a clear shower curtain with black grid lines on it that the students could code the robot to travel to different locations. If you don’t have a map, have the students create one!
Sample social studies applications:
- Code the robot to travel to different countries, continents, and oceans on a world map.
- Explore different parts of U.S. history on a map, such as Lewis and Clark’s route, the Oregon Trail, or where people traveled for the Gold Rush.
- Code the robot to travel to different states and state capitals.
- Explore different parts of the community and community helpers on a city map.
Additional coding resources
As a curriculum specialist and former educator, I have used many great resources that integrate coding across curricula. Here are a few that can help you get a jump start on being a maker and innovator in your classroom.
For digital resources: Code.org is a wonderful online resource full of free computer science courses and activities for educators interested in teaching their students coding without needing a robot.
For early learning, hands-on solutions: A physical, hands-on coding solution is a great way to introduce early learners to the basics of coding. Pitsco Education’s KUBO is a fun screen-free, puzzle-like robotics coding solution for grades K-2 to learn the basics of coding.
For project-based learning environments: Encouraging students to join a robotics team outside of what they learn in the classroom gives learners an opportunity to take their coding skills to the next level. The FIRST non-profit organization hosts yearly robotics competitions at which student teams program an autonomous robot, develop a solution to a real-world problem, and compete with other teams.