Skip to content

College of Education News

Education professor’s research explores coding concepts for young learners

College of Education Professor Joohi Lee’s research into the benefits of teaching coding to young students has resulted in publication in two noted journals. Her work focuses on coding activities that do not involve computers or computer programming.

“Implementing Unplugged Coding Activities in Early Childhood Classrooms” was published in Early Childhood Education Journal, while Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood published “Coding in early childhood”.

Coding or programming is defined as the act or process of planning or writing a program that results in a machine accomplishing a target outcome. The coding process involves creating a detailed set of directions that a machine interprets and accomplished to achieve a specific task.

Machines and devices that are operated using coding systems have become ubiquitous in the lives of children, and this constant exposure promotes their interest in how things operate or move automatically. Resources on introducing young children to the the basic tenets of coding in a developmentally appropriate way have been difficult to access, however. In her research, Dr. Joohi Lee has worked to address this deficiency in the area of early education, providing appropriate guidelines for teachers of young students to use when implementing coding in their classrooms.

Although the term “coding” is relatively new in the world of early childhood education, children frequently use unplugged (or non-computer) coding in their daily lives. Teachers and children may not be aware that children are coding, but in reality, children are often engaging in these step-by-step procedures to complete a task, such as tying their shoelaces by following a series of steps. Teachers can learn to identify these moments so that they can introduce and implement coding in their early education classrooms.

Dr. Lee establishes that before attempting to implement coding activities with young learners, those children should be familiar with directional words (e.g. move forward, turn left, etc.), sequential words (first, second, third, etc.) and combinations of both. They should also understand those words in a space including a grid, providing a foundation for when they eventually transition to plugged-in activities. Finally, young students should be able to decode in order to code, meaning they should understand directional or sequential words before creating directions using these words.

“Coding has become common in early and elementary education,” writes Dr. Lee. “Early childhood educators must know and provide children with concrete experiences related to coding in ways children enjoy and understand. Starting with children’s routine or daily life experiences is an efficient way to help them become familiar with coding and do it themselves.”

joohi lee