How to teach Coding and Robotics in the Foundation Phase

Learn about Coding and Robotics in the Foundation Phase, and how best to teach this exciting, new subject!

Coding and Robotics is a new subject introduced by the Department of Basic Education for grade 1 – 9 in South Africa. It aims to prepare learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution by introducing technology, processes, and ways of thinking that allow them to live and work in a digitally-enabled society. ​

Coding and Robotics Knowledge Strands

The Coding and Robotics Foundation Phase subject in grades 1 to 3 consist of the following Knowledge Strands: ​

  • Pattern Recognition and Problem Solving    ​
  • Algorithms and Coding       ​
  • Robotics Skills          ​
  • Internet and E-Communication      ​
  • Application Skills
Coding and Robotics in the Foundation Phase consists of five knowledge strands. The subject methodology is based on computational thinking and the engineering design process.

21st Century Skills

The Coding and Robotics subject is aimed at guiding and preparing learners to solve problems, think critically, work collaboratively and creatively, function in a digital and information-driven world, apply digital and ICT skills and to transfer these skills to solve everyday problems and its possibilities, including equipping learners for meaningful and successful living in a rapidly changing and transforming society. ​

Coding and Robotics can help teach 21st Century Skills in the Foundation Phase

Connect Coding and Robotics

I’ve recently published a series of textbooks for the South African Foundation Phase Coding and Robotics classroom. These books respond directly to the draft curriculum, providing content and activities for each knowledge strand.

Connect Coding and Robotics Foundation Phase textbooks

Pattern Recognition and Problem Solving 

Learning to identify abstract and geometric patterns is an integral part of the Design and Computational Thinking process, assisting learners in solving problems. ​

​The following skills and concepts are taught in Pattern Recognition and Problem-solving strand: ​

  • Identification and analysis of regularities, repetitions and change in patterns that increases in size and number consisting of physical objects, drawings and symbolic forms to make predictions and solve problems. ​
  • Description of patterns and relationships using symbolic expressions and grids. ​
  • The identification of code patterns through the sequences of lines, shapes and objects in the world. 
Learning to identify patterns is an integral part of the design and computational thinking processes, which will assist learners in solving problems. Patterns can be physical objects, drawings or symbolic forms. The example from the textbook above includes a 3-step worked example on how to identify patterns, followed by an activity where learners identify the sets in three different patterns. A second step-by-step worked example is given on how to debug a pattern followed by an application activity.

Algorithms and Coding 

Fundamental programming principles and constructs in Foundation Phase are introduced for Grade R learners through physical Coding activities, which progress from Grade 1 to digital platforms (Scratch JR) that are easy-to-learn and fun for learners to engage. ​

​The Programming Platforms introduce learners to critical computational skills and concepts: ​

  • Identifying and analyse solutions for specific fundamental problems. ​
  • Converting simple algorithms to block-based code. 
The example provided from the textbook guides learners to program a sprite in ScratchJr. Learners can access a video showing them how to do this (via the QR code provided on page 10) and/or they can follow the step-by-step guide in the LB. Teachers can demonstrate the steps to the whole class and then let learners work in pairs or small groups to try it out.

What is Scratch Jr?

  • Scratch Jr is a visual programming language designed to introduce programming skills to children ages 5–7. 
  • The app is considered an introductory programming language. It is available as a free app for iOS, Android and Chromebook.

With Scratch Jr, young children (ages 5-7) can program their own interactive stories and games. In the process, they learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively on the computer.

Robotics Skills

Robotics consists of two merging fields that including Coding and Engineering. Learners are introduced to the entire Mechanical and Electrical engineering systems and circuits that are used in Robotics. ​

The Concepts and Skills taught are as follows: ​

  • Creating logical steps that robots can follow. ​
  • Basic Mechanical systems, including pulleys, gears and linkages. ​
  • Basic Electrical Circuits. 
In the example activity from the textbook, learners role play controlling a robot. 

Internet and e-Communication Skills 

The strand of the Internet and e-Communications skills prepares learners to interact safely in a digital online and offline world. ​

The following Concepts and skills are taught in the strand: ​

  • Their Digital Identity and Security. ​
  • Safety around the use of Digital platforms. ​
  • Various types of essential e-communication technologies or platforms. ​
  • The primary networks and the Internet. ​
  • The safe use of Web browsers to search for information. 
The content in the textbook provides a simple definition of the internet, connecting devices and connectivity. Illustrations, icons and bolded keywords in the text (with definitions in nearby keyword boxes) aid learner understanding.

Application Skills 

Application Skills comprises end-user skills that are used on different digital platforms. Learners in Foundation Phase are introduced to other digital platforms and taught about the various user interfaces and functions of applications on the devices. ​

The Application skills strand teaches the following skills and content: ​

  • The use of Digital Devices. ​
  • The use of Applications and User Interfaces. 
In the example from the textbook, learners revise user interfaces and are shown how to use arrow keys. A worked example is provided showing how to edit a file name using the arrow keys. They can also access a game using the arrow keys via the QR code on page 27. 

Teaching Tips for Coding and Robotics

Coding and Robotics is, by its nature, a practical subject. The best way to teach this subject is through activities and tasks. 

Other methods:

  • Step-by-step demonstrations and explanations
  • Giving explicit instructions with lots of scaffolding
  • Game based learning
  • Project-based inquiries focused on problem-oriented learning and cooperative learning.

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