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Whole school approach to coding

Making a difference

Years F-8

What might a whole primary school digital technologies program look like? What resources make a difference? Get advice, unit outlines, assessment ideas and a host of practical tips in this article by Dan Martinez, Coordinator of Innovation and Learning at St Hilda’s School.

Pic_Emma Fowler

Our Focus

The Coding Institute

In 2015, the Junior School began exploring the role of coding within the curriculum as a practical and engaging method of real world problem solving. What we immediately witnessed within these classes formed the conceptual thinking around our Coding Institute initiative.

The implementation of the Coding Institute fits within the current weekly hour of timetabled Digital Technologies lessons delivered to all students within the Junior School. Through their participation in the Institute, our girls work with a range of the latest peripheral devices, gain an understanding of various coding applications and develop their proficiency with the coding language Swift. See the ‘Key resources and learning activities’ section for sample curriculum and assessment strategies. See the Digital Technologies Scope and Sequence document for a quick scan of curriculum offerings.

We have discovered that students are hugely engaged in problem-based activities that require flexible and practical solutions based on trial and error. Strategic resourcing has ensured that students must work collaboratively with their peers. This is completely intentional so as to promote their ability to effectively communicate and solve problems with others. Through their involvement, students are also actively and practically developing and establishing a working growth mindset as they understand the need for failure as part of the learning process. This has had a knock-on effect in building resilience in other subject areas and aspects of school life.

Each cohort embarks on a full term of coding each year. Curriculum and assessment materials are in part sourced from existing websites such as the Digital Technologies Hub. However, where possible, teachers are encouraged and supported to create their own units and assessment pieces. The reasoning behind this preference lies in the belief that staff will have greater ownership, and therefore vested interest, in the success of the lesson implementation if they have personally created the learning activities.

This has led to a large number of iTunes U courses that have been created to support teaching and learning within the Coding Institute for not only our community but for anybody who wishes to access our curriculum.

Impact on staff

One of the most important factors for the continued success of the Institute is supporting staff with their unit planning and delivery of lesson content. Many staff find that the hardest thing is starting and that once this is out of the way, they are surprised at how quickly the students pick up the concepts. Other outcomes include the influence that coding activities have on development of critical thinking skills, effective communication skills and collaboration with peers. Our teachers have been able to see links to other areas of the curriculum while also developing ideas on how to integrate existing curriculum or topics.

The next step at St Hilda’s is to use the potential of Swift Playground and have students shift from visual block-based coding to actually writing code in the Swift language to program devices such as Lego Mindstorms EV3, Spheros, Dash robots and Parrot drones.

Key resources and learning activities

The Coding Institute combines screen-based activities, offline lessons and Bluetooth-enabled robotic devices. We have specifically chosen the number of devices required for students to work in pairs or small teams so as to promote collaboration and teamwork.

Purchasing equipment

Many schools have access to iPads or other branded tablets through either a shared bank of devices or a BYOD program. Our Junior School has both models in operation. Our Prep to Year 3 classes have access to a shared bank of iPads per cohort. These iPads range in age and models from iPad 2 to iPad Air 2 models. Ideally, we would prefer that all of our shared banks consisted of the latest model iPad and we are currently looking at ways to achieve this. However, we have sourced equipment that is functional and compatible with our shared devices.

Prep-level resources and learning activities

Our Prep (Foundation) level students use Blue-Bot devices. These work exactly the same as Bee-Bots but are also iPad compatible and Bluetooth-enabled. They range in cost from $190 to $200 (in 2016) and can be purchased in sets of ten. We currently have ten devices with charging stations and a range of activity mats, etc. More information can be found at the Wonder Workshop website. Our Prep team have used the following documents in 2017:

Another useful link is:


Year 1: Level resources and learning activities

Our Year 1 students use Osmo Coding Blocks and Kodable. The girls are taught sequencing, bugging, debugging and loops using Kodable. The Osmo Coding blocks are a great tool for physically creating code with blocks. They come with an adapter that makes them compatible with many different models of iPad. They cost roughly $130 (in 2016) and can be purchased in sets of ten. We currently have ten packs and these are used with the shared iPad banks in Year 1. More information can be found at Osmo and at Kodable.

Our Year 1 team have used the following curriculum, assessment documentation and digital resources for delivering lesson content to our girls this year:


Year 2: Level resources and learning activities

Our girls have been taught sequencing, bugging, debugging, loops and sensors using WowWee’s MiP robots. These are Bluetooth-enabled humanoid robots that are only compatible with iPads newer than iPad 2. We found these hard to source and ended up buying them from eBay; but we’re glad we did, as they are fantastic. They require AAA batteries, and they range in price depending on their availability. We purchased ours for roughly $145 (in 2016). Note: These are not the MiP mini robots, which have limited coding possibilities.

We currently have ten MiP robots and these are used with the shared iPad banks in Year 2. More information can be found at WowWee.

Our Year 2 team have used the following curriculum, assessment documentation and digital resources for delivering lesson content to our girls this year:


Year 3: Level resources and learning activities

The girls are taught sequencing, bugging, debugging, loops and sensors using Sphero. These are Bluetooth-enabled robotic ball devices that are only compatible with iPads and Android devices. They range in price from $169 to $199 (in 2016). We currently have 15 Spheros and these are used with the shared iPad banks in Year 3. More information can be found at Apple.

Our Year 3 team have used the following curriculum, assessment documentation and digital resources for delivering lesson content to our girls this year: Introduction to coding with Sphero by St Hilda's School.


Year 4: Level resources and learning activities

Girls have been taught sequencing, bugging, debugging, loops, sensors and conditionals using Dash robots. These are Bluetooth-enabled robotic devices that are only compatible with iPads and Android devices. They range in price from $270 to $300 (in 2016). We currently have ten Dash robots with a range of catapults and other accessories. These are used within our 1:1 BYO iPad program. More information can be found at the Wonder Workshop website. Our Year 4 team have used the following curriculum, assessment documentation and digital resources for delivering lesson content to our girls this year:


Year 5: Level resources and learning activities

Girls have been taught sequencing, bugging, debugging, loops, sensors and conditionals using Lego Mindstorms EV3. These are Bluetooth-enabled robotic devices that are compatible with iPads, Android devices, laptop and desktops. We use the desktop version of the software as there are more tools and coding blocks available than on their tablet counterparts. The EV3 kits come in a range of packages and options. We currently have eight EV3 kits that cost roughly $2600 (in 2016) with a range of other Lego sensors and accessories. These are used within our 1:1 BYO iPad program.

More information can be found at the Lego website.

Our Year 5 team have used the following curriculum, assessment documentation and digital resources for delivering lesson content to our girls this year:


Year 6: Level resources and learning activities

Girls have been taught sequencing, bugging, debugging, loops, sensors and conditionals using Parrot drones. These are Bluetooth enabled devices that are compatible with iPads and Android devices. They range in price between $180 and $200. We currently have 10 Dash robots with a range of catapults and other accessories. These are used within our 1:1 BYO iPad program. Strict safety guidelines have been developed to ensure the safety of students during these lessons. This unit also focuses on the ethical and moral issues relating to the use of drones in today’s society. More information can be found at the Parrot website. Our Year 6 team have used the following resource for delivering lesson content to our girls this year:

Tips and advice

Tips for other schools wishing to undertake a similar project activity

This is an entire Junior School initiative that has taken a few years to resource and implement. The best advice I could offer is to start small. Choose one device and possibly a couple of year levels and roll out a smaller version of our Coding Institute. Plan to implement a whole-school approach over a two- to three-year cycle. This will lighten the cost of purchasing devices, provide staff with time to build their confidence and grow excitement between the student and parent community. Ensure that you provide staff with professional development opportunities and time to think about how coding activities and lessons can be incorporated into existing curriculum or how existing curriculum can be used to inspire new coding ideas.

About St Hilda's School

St Hilda's School is an independent, Anglican, day and boarding school for girls located in Southport, a central suburb of the Gold Coast in Queensland. Established in 1912, St Hilda’s has a non-selective enrolment policy and currently caters for approximately 1250 students from Pre-Preparatory to Year 12, including 180 boarders, both local and international students, from years 6 to 12.

The school motto ‘Non Nobis Solum’ translates as ‘Not For Ourselves Alone’. This simple ethos underpins the philosophical approach to all aspects of life at St Hilda’s. Application of the motto is heavily reflected in our extensive iTunes U commitment to providing educational opportunities to the greater worldwide educational community.

The St Hilda’s School Coding Institute is a way to ensure that all of our Junior School girls are learning how to code as part of our commitment to meet the Queensland Government’s initiative Advancing Queensland: Coding Counts.