Dyan Branstetter | December 2016

Coding, Music Notation for the Hour of Code

Have you tried coding with your students? This is my first year delving into this skill, and it has been very successful thanks to the many free online resources available. While I’m comfortable with technology, I don’t have any background in computer science, and I didn’t really have a handle on what coding was. After exploring Code.org, not only was I educated on coding, but I was thrilled to see how many music and art connections I found and learn a lot of hour of code activities.

What is special about Code.org?

Computer science programs for elementary teachers are hard to come by, so computer programmers have designed sequential learning games to teach students to code. Using videos, lessons, and step by step directions, children as young as four are able to code. I have been teaching coding using Code.org, which has a fantastic mix of “unplugged” activities to use when you don’t have access to technology and “plugged” activities, where students watch a real-life video clip that teaches them a lesson about an upcoming coding exercise.

All of the plugged activities are designed for students to complete with a partner, and they do a great job of addressing partnering social skills. This makes it easy to do with a class when you don’t have enough devices for everyone. Perseverance and growth mindset are built into the videos and lessons.

Incorporating the Arts

Code.org features dance as a way to learn skills, and some of the skills themselves lend themselves to reading or writing music. During a professional development on coding, my instructor used the “Getting Loopy”  unplugged lesson as a sample for us to work through. This uses dance to teach looping and ways to identify loops in programming. Of course, whenever we’re learning something new, our brain naturally tries to relate it to something we already know. As soon as I saw the coding example of looping, I realized that it is the equivalent of a repeat sign in music notation. This lesson already incorporates dance, but I wanted to take it a step further with my students and show them how to notate rhythms with a repeat sign.  

An Arts Integrated Extension

I created this extension for my third graders to go along with Code.org’s free unplugged and plugged lesson/video on looping. First, I used all of the resources to teach the lesson on looping. Find them hereThe next day, I introduced the notation for a repeat sign in music. If you’re not familiar, find a brief explanation here. (Here’s another little resource for repeat signs.) Then, I projected this worksheet on my whiteboard to practice a simple rhythm from music class. We clapped the rhythm from the first line together, and then I added repeat signs in various places using a dry erase marker. We clapped the rhythm again following the directions of the repeat signs. Finally, I invited a student to rewrite the repeat signs for us and we clapped it once more.

By this time I was certain that my class understood the concept of repeat signs. Students took out their looping dance paper from Code.org from our previous lesson. With a partner, students added repeat signs to the paper to show where the repeats happened. As a follow-up, student partners wrote their own little dances that included at least one repeat sign. As they performed their dance for the class, we projected their notation so we could see where the repeat occurred. Then, we had the class try each dance while reading the notation.

Participate in the Hour of Code Activities

If you haven’t started coding with your students, Code.org is an easy place to start! This week is the Hour of Code, with a goal to have all students code for an hour at some point during the week. In addition to the sequential lessons, there is special Hour of Code activities that allow students to create with favorite characters from Moana, Minecraft, and Frozen. You will also find Hour of Code activities for music and art creation. All are searchable by age from pre-readers through high school and can be sorted into educator and student levels of “beginning” and “comfortable”. For the Hour of Code, you don’t need to set up class accounts. Students just navigate to the activities and get started!

In addition to Code.org, you might want to check out other free programs such as the app Swift PlaygroundLightbot, Scratch, Tynker, and Kodable. Try one, and see if you notice the connections, too!

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.