The Shipley Method

Learning to Code by Breaking it Down

Laura Oeschger
Shipley places a strong emphasis on teaching computer science skills from the time students enter Lower School. But the goal is not to prepare all students to pursue computer science in college and beyond. Shipley helps students translate coding skills into valuable skills for all subject areas and life situations.

Students in Kindergarten through first grade are introduced to coding on iPads with Kodeble, an app offering an introduction to programming concepts and problem solving. Coding and programming integrate into the normal schedule and curriculum starting in fourth grade, in conjunction with Shipley’s one to one computing program.
Building Blocks of Knowledge
Most people may think of coding as the scary string of symbols and characters hidden underneath a webpage. While that is a type of coding, which Shipley students learn eventually, the fourth and fifth graders complete challenges and puzzles on Code.Org, which focus on block-based coding.

“I tell the students that coding and programming are what is behind the scenes,” says Debra Finger, Lower School Technology Coach. “It’s the brains behind what is going on in the screen in front of you.”

Through block-coding puzzles, students learn that the images on the screen do not just magically move. Blocks need to be placed in the correct order to complete the challenge.

“Students learn to break down something that seems like a big deal into an individual piece,” says Finger. “There’s a lot of logical thinking and problem solving involved. The students don’t always solve these puzzles right away, but they enjoy sticking with it and they’re that much happier and excited when they’re successful.”
Why Code?
Shipley places an emphasis on coding in the Lower School for that very reason – the reward of hard work and perseverance sparks a motivation to learn more. Coding may never be on a standardized test, but the problem solving skills, persistence, and resilience students learn as they challenge themselves to try over and over again to succeed are the necessary foundational tools to grow as a student and adult.

“These skills can be used in all aspects of their day,” explains Finger. “Whether it’s a huge assignment or a math problem, if they can think about it through the same lens as they do with coding, they can break it down into smaller pieces. Then it can help them see that this big task really is doable.”
Scratch That
When the fifth graders graduate to Middle School, a different coding and programming systems, Scratch in sixth grade and Alice in seventh grade, push students outside their comfort levels.

“Each year adds a level of complexity to what the students are able to do,” says Bethany Silva, Middle School Technology Coach. “It’s really focused on creating. And there’s also a lot of floating back and forth between comfort and discomfort. It takes a little bit of pushing.”

While Code.Org uses basic block-coding like “turn” and “walk,” Scratch uses more elaborate and precise block-coding. For example, in Scratch students must use systematic reasoning to create the walking sequence of bending the knee, extending the leg, placing the leg, etc.

Moving into seventh grade, the students start to experiment with more 3D programming, building on the systematic reasoning and logic learned the year before. Silva shows the students the project they are going to construct, a felt cutout with microcontrollers and circuitry sewn into it to light up two LED lights. The students, recognizing how difficult a challenge that may be, trust the process they’ve grown to know as second nature.
“What is consistent across all of these programs is that logic of considering how to make things happen in order,” explains Silva. “What happens first? What happens next? What happens together? To an adult that may seem easy, but for kids it can be difficult. It teaches them to decompose and analyze.”

Shipley’s educational technology team works hard to research and implement the most current technology resources to provide an integrated and scaffold curriculum from the youngest grades to the oldest. In Upper School, courses like Python and Digital Fabrication require the basic coding skills learned in Middle and Lower Schools. What stays consistent and true to the core of each grade level is the plethora of skills the students build as they grow into young adults.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.