Teaching coding concepts to students who are visually impaired is now on our radar! Mainstream classrooms are embedding coding concepts and logical thinking beginning in preschool. There are a number of fun and simple coding concept posts on Paths to Technology. Now that we have some ideas, what should we teach when? This post is a guide to help you organize and sequence your coding concept lesson plans!
Remember, these coding concept activities can easily be modified to fit preschoolers as well as expanded to be challenging for older students!
Unplugged Coding Concepts
The first level is unplugged coding concepts - meaning activities that do not require devices or tech. These are typically simple activities where the student has to determine a route to specific items; the route may or may not include avoiding obstacles. Note: If working with a very young student (preschooler/kindergarten student), the student may repeat the same basic concepts with each of these examples. If working with an older student, use these same activities but include introducing terms, math, O&M, and higher thinking concepts. The examples below are geared for students in the middle - ready to add an additional concept or two with each activity. Modify your lessons and expectations according to your student's age and ability!
- Egg Carton Unplugged - Student uses Wikki Sticks to show how the character will move forward through the egg carton to collect the eggs (which hold prizes) and avoid the hot lava. This activity enables the student/teacher to manipulate the board (eggs and lava) to create new layouts and repeat the activity as often as desired.
Expanded concepts: Introduce grid concepts (terms such as "row" and "column", numbering squares in the grid, etc.) Ask the student to find the egg in a particular square and ask the student to place an egg in a particular square.
- "We Are Going on a Bear Hunt" book activity - Student uses Wikki Sticks to create his route following the sequence in the book. The activity includes 2D tactile page and only the Wikki Sticks can be manipulated. Student uses "move forward" commands. Introduce spatial concepts: top, middle bottom, left, center, right. What item(s) is in top section of the grid? Introduce relationships between items such as 'Where is the cave from the house" (three steps to the right).
Expanded Concepts: Continue to use grid terms and numbering.
"Brown Bear Bear, Brown Bear" book activity - student uses straight arrows to "move forward" to create his route following the sequence in the book.
- Introduce the concepts of mental mapping/spatial relationships using terms such as "top", "corner", and "diagonal". Call out an item and ask the student to quickly touch that item on the tactile grid - without searching for the item.
- Answer questions such as, "Where is the purple cat?" (using spatial terms). Apply these concepts to school or community maps.
- Point "as the crow flies" to items located in the classroom, to areas in the school or community and then describe the direction using spatial terms.
- Introduce perspective: Where is the bear to the children? Where is the children to the bear? Follow through with where is the cafeteria in relationship to the classroom? The classroom to the cafeteria?
Expanded Concepts: Introduce O&M terms such as "T-intersection" and "zig-zag" (to continue in the same direction but have to "Zig, move forward and Zag" to go around an obstacle). Answer questions such as, "Where is the purple cat?" using row and column numbers. Relate the perspective to using a map when traveling a route - do you turn the map when you make a turn so that you are always moving forward (like a GPS set to always moving straight ahead) or do you change your perspective as you move - your mental/physical map stays the same but you have changed directions in the store. Knowing exactly where you are in space is a higher level process where the environment/map stays the same and you turn within the environment. (Example: When traveling a route in Walmart, keep your mental map/physical map the same - if holding the map, the doors to Walmart are at the bottom of the map. If you are walking towards Lawn and Garden, you are moving towards the right edge of the map. When ready to leave, you turn right when you hear the cash registers; in your mind, you are walking parallel to the cash registers, but turn when you come to an open aisle that leads to the cash register).
- "Snowy Day" book activity - Student uses turn arrows and move forward arrows to create his route following the sequence in the book. In this scenario, if you are placing arrows in the grid, the turn arrow and the move forward arrow will go in the same square.
Expanded Concepts: Create a line of code using arrow blocks outside of the grid. For simple routes, place the arrow blocks in a column. For more complicated routes, break the code into chunks by dividing the code so that each line contains the arrows stopping at the action after the next decision-making landmark - meaning the horizontal line will contain the move forward arrows and turn arrow. The next line of code will contain the next move forward arrows and turn. (Relate this to O&M routes that are broken into bite-size chunks by dividing the route by decision-making landmarks. Example: Walk north along Main Street; at the McDonald's turn right. (McDonald's is your next decision-making landmark - when you find McDonald's the action is to turn right.)
- Additional books/sequencing activities can be created.
- Movement cards - Create braille command cards (or use tactile images/textures) that include physical movements such as move forward one block, jump, clap, act like a monkey, etc. The cards can be random and silly. Create directional cards (move forward, turn right/left, step up/over, etc.) and use these directions to lead the student through a physical maze around the classroom. (Example: Move forward and turn cards can lead the student around the teacher's desk, across the room, through the door, etc. You can have one student call out the cards (one at a time) and another student pretend to be a robot and act out the card.
- My Robotic Friends (Cup Stack Activity) - This activity is more challenging and best for slightly older students. Students follow a tactile card demonstrating cups that have been stacked. Using arrows, students have to "write the code" that tells the robot (a student) exactly how to move each cup over and/or up to form the correct cup stack.
Transition Simple Unplugged Coding Concepts to Digital Concepts
- Ballyland Code 1: Say Hello - This fully accessible iOS app is a great introduction to 3x3 digital grid. The student drags his finger around the screen to find two obstacles and to determine the route to a character. Choose a coding option (move forward, turn right, say hello) from the menu; to "write the code" use the one finger swipe down gesture. Swipe right to move to the next line of code. 3D printed grids and characters are available! This app also has a wonderful interactive tutorial for students to learn how to "write their code".
The app introduces digital grids, rows and columns, navigating through menus and selecting options, and additional tech skills.
There are two more Ballyland Code apps that provide additional activities geared for young students.
- Note: APH is working on a more challenging accessible coding app currently called CodeQuest which is anticipated to be field tested soon! Information and videos about CodeQuest available in the Hidden Resources: Collaborative AT Projects with Universities post.
Simple Accessible Robots for Young Students
Code and Go Robot Mouse - Students press the direction buttons in sequence on the top of the robot mouse to move the mouse through his course. Code and Go Robot has an activity kit that includes blocks that snap together to create tactile grids, walls and tunnels that can be placed in the grid, activity cards, and arrow command cards. (Cards can be modified to be tactile for students who are visually impaired.)
Expanded Concepts: There are a variety of activity cards from very simple to more complex activities. Use longer routes for expanding memory. Incorporate routes that include zig-zags, etc. and ask the student to describe the route, start and stop spatial direction (as the crow flies - "Diagonal route to the right and down") and create challenging routes on the floor that are not on the blocks (requiring measuring skills to layout the route). Have the student create a route that includes various obstacles. Incorporate the Engineer Design Process.
Note: Code and Go Robot - There are additional Code and Go Critters with activities and there are other similar robots such as Bee Bot. However, Code and Go Mouse Activity Set is the only one that comes with the full tactile grid, manipulates, activities, and cards.
- Botley Robot - This is a simple and accessible robot similar to Code and Go Robot Mouse but with a remote control. Botley comes with additional manipulatives and arrow command cards (which can be modified to be tactile for students with visual impairments). Botley makes wonderful sounds as he moves and includes more complex abilities, such as Loops, Obstacle Avoidance, and Easter Eggs. This robot and manipulatives can be used to create obstacles using the Engineering Design Process and is wonderful for team projects which include a project manager, designer, coder and tester.
Expanded Concepts: There numerous opportunities for expanded concepts with Botley, including additional coding terms and projects.
More Advanced Robot and Coding
- Sphero and SAS CodeSnaps - The SAS CodeSnaps iOS app is basically accessible when using the CodeSnaps QR codes (which can be printed out and modified for students who are visually impaired). The QR codes are scanned into the app and then control the Sphero Robot. Students can determine a path through an obstacle course, can create obstacles courses using the Engineer Design Process and a variety of materials - making Sphero as complex (or simple) as desired. Students will need to learn how to measure or estimate distances. The Sphero activities are best with slightly older students who have foundational coding concept skills. These activities are typically performed as team projects.
Note: The drag and drop commands portion of the CodeSnaps app is no longer accessible; only the QR activities are accessible.
Expanded Concepts: There numerous opportunities for expanded concepts with the Sphero robot including additional coding terms and projects.
- Code Jumper - Created by Microsoft and soon-to-be manufactured/distributed by APH, Code Jumper is a hands-on coding resource with physical pieces that are linked together paired with an Android app. Code Jumper is being field tested now and is anticipated to be released soon; APH reports that an iOS version will be available at some point.
- Swift Playgrounds App - This accessible app was created by Apple to teach students and adults how to code using the Swift coding language. Swift is often used to create iOS apps. Swift Playgrounds is accessible with VoiceOver. Note: Students do need to understand many concepts before they are able to use Swift Playgrounds. The games in Swift Playgrounds are very visual and many are built on a 3D grid (rows and columns and height). Apple has created a teaching manual for Swift Playgrounds for users who rely on VoiceOver and tactile images of the grids/activities can be purchased or files downloaded.
Apple's New Accessible Coding Resources for Swift Playgrounds post (includes information and links for tactile grids and VoiceOver curriculum)
Understanding Swift Playgrounds post (video created by a high school student who is visually impaired)
- Hopscotch Coding App - Hopscotch is an app that teaches students to write their own code and programs in the Hopscotch programming language. Note: Hopscotch does work with magnification but is not compatible with VoiceOver; this app requires vision to use.
Hopscotch Coding App Review post (for students with low vision)
- Quorum Language - Quorum is an accessible coding language.
Additional coding related posts
How I Code and Use a Computer at 1,000 Words per Minute: Sina Bahram (Sina's personal story and video)
Additional coding concept posts will continue to be added to Paths to Technology. While the majority of the mainstream coding concept apps are not accessible, app developers are being encouraged to consider accessibility as they design their apps. Several mainstream coding apps use block coding (drag and drop a command into the sequence) including several apps designed to run the Sphero robot. Unfortunately, these apps are currently are not accessible with VoiceOver or a screen reader.
If you have a favorite coding concept or beginning coding robot, app, or activity, please share with us!