School Phase 1

This page contains resources for piloting Phase 1 in classrooms during 2021-22.

Order Matters

At the beginning of the year, children learn A LOT of new routines. Your students will learn how to walk in line down the hallway, to get and clean up their lunch; and much, much more! You can help your students understand that routines are like algorithms in computer science. As students recognize sequencing, they come to understand that order matters in computer science and storytelling.

Children will understand that using steps helps us do tasks and solve problems in computer science, literature, and in daily life. Sometimes the order of steps matters.

These are not necessarily for children to answer, but thematic questions that underlie the phases.
  • What is a sequence? What is important to know about sequences?
  • How are sequences organized?
  • How are coding sequences enacted?(i.e., with robotics?)
  • How can we use sequences to make sense of the world around us?
NEW WORDS You don’t have to teach these meanings directly. Children will learn these words just by hearing you use them in context.
  • Algorithm – a list of steps to solve a problem or achieve a goal/task
  • Code, Coding or Program – words that we use to talk about algorithms that computers can understand
  • Sequence – the correct order of steps, like actions, or objects
  • Bug – a problem in a sequence that stops the algorithm from working
  • Debug – to find and fix the bug
Please Note. Additional computer science words and concepts that might come up are included in the phase 1 pdf at the bottom of this page
  • Coding Cards
  • Foam Mats
  • Code & Go Robot Mouse
  • Code-A-Pillar
  • Books about School Readiness: Lola Goes to SchoolRosie Goes to SchoolHello School Otto Goes to School
  • Books about Home Routines: Good Morning, Buenos Días (English-Spanish)
  • Books to Emphasize Sequence: If You Give a Mouse a CookieThe Very Hungry CaterpillarThere was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
HOME CONNECTIONS Ideas for connecting powerful ideas to cultural, home, and community experiences.
  • Name steps of an at-home routine such as brushing teeth, making a sandwich, driving or walking to school, etc.
  • Talk about why order of steps is important in at-home routines
  • Recall algorithms for at-home tasks without actually doing he task
  • Connect to cultural backgrounds.
    Remember that routines can vary greatly from one family to another. Ask children and parents about their families’ routines and celebrate differences
  • Use a playground, not a playpen, approach
  • Use the design process steps while implementing routines
  • Encourage children to ask questions
  • Rotate recycled materials and have those available at centers
  • Prioritize group and cooperative work over individual work. Young children benefit from learning computer science collaboratively

Focal Powerful Idea: Algorithms

An algorithm is a list of steps. Those steps help us solve a problem or achieve a goal. It is often important to complete the steps in order. We call this order of steps a sequence.

Sequencing means that we put actions or objects in the correct order. This is a very important idea in reading and math, too!

Young children learn best about algorithms and sequence together!

Summary of PHASE 1 Activities

Phase 0 Focal Experience

This optional focal experience are a good option for the first weeks of school when students are learning about daily routines.

  • Explicitly discuss the order of steps. Brainstorm parts of the day with children, prompt/scaffold as needed, and record children’s ideas on chart paper or board.
  • “Share the pen” with children to provide ownership. This can vary based on their writing level. For example, they might write a letter, sign their name, mark an X, etc.
  • Discuss the sequence of the day and emphasize that order matters but can sometimes change. For example, “Do we eat lunch when we get to school? What would happen if we did?” Make comparisons to story narratives, coding, etc. to emphasize the ideas of algorithm and sequencing. You can also connect to text, such as Otto Goes to School. For example, “What happens if Otto doesn’t put his shoes on before he goes to school?”
  • Discuss and problem solve (“debug”) issues in the schedule. “What happens when it rains and we can’t go outside?” Emphasize that “programming the day” means we’re designing, which means we’re making a plan for doing something. Sometimes we have to change our plan.

POWERFUL IDEAS During phase 1 we emphasize sequence and algorithms. Here are some other powerful ideas that might come up during this focal experience:
  • Representation – We use numbers to represent the time, letters to represent sounds that make words, and pictures to remind us of what the word means.
  • Control structures – We use our schedule to help determine the order in which we do things during the day. Usually, we follow this sequence, but sometimes we have to make changes. So we use other control structures, like “If….then…” or loops which tell us to repeat steps.
  • Design Process – We can use a process to help us solve challenging problems, like planning our day. We can repeat steps and repeat the process as much as needed to: ask, imagine, plan, create, test & improve, and share.

Phase 1 Focal Experience

During the Phase 1 Focal Experience, students learn that order matters when programming computers to achieve a particular goal & when telling stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

STEP ONE Read a book with a clear sequence, like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Ask students to recall the events of the story, and then ask, “What if you gave him milk first? How would that change the story? What would he ask for next?”
Emphasize sequencing in the narrative. Ask, “Why would he ask for…next?” And be silly! Let children create their own stories and sequences based on the changes. Talk about why and how order matters (i.e., changing the order changes the story).
STEP TWO Tell students that just like order matters in the book, order matters in programming as well. Programs are instructions that computers or machines can understand. We all use instructions (or use a different familiar word, like directions, procedures, etc.) every day at school and at home.
Brainstorm some programs (i.e., instructions) that children follow at home and school in which order matters (e.g., brushing teeth; lining up at the door). These should be familiar from the lead up activities.
STEP THREE Tell students that they’re going to “program the teacher.” Set up the foam mats and pass out the coding cards to students. Students work together to write a program to move the teacher to a certain foam mat. You can change the end goal to make it increasingly more challenging. And encourage children to be silly and see if there is more than one way to reach the goal.

POWERFUL IDEAS During phase 1 we emphasize sequence and algorithms. Here are some other powerful ideas that might come up during this focal experience:
  • Representation – representing teachers’ actions with symbols on the cards
  • Modularity -Breaking down the program into smaller parts to reach goal
  • Debugging -Fixing the teachers’ program if we don’t reach the goal

FOR YOU TO CONSIDER Not all cultural groups use linear sequencing as the primary approach to storytelling. In other words, not all stories must have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Nonlinear storytelling is often important in cultures that value oral traditions, and many works of literature and film are praised for their use of nonlinear approaches!
Keep in mind that linear stories may be new for some of your students. Be sure to celebrate all the rich traditions of storytelling that children have experienced in their homes and communities. Consider including non-linear books in read-a-louds like Be Boy Buzz by bell hooks.

Small Group & Center Time Possibilities

Below are a few small-group and center-time activities you can use to help prepare children for the focal experience! More ideas and resources are highlighted in the Phase 1 PDF located at the end of the webpage.

PROGRAM A ROUTINE For example, children draw steps and sequence them for a common routine, such as hand washing, getting ready for a meal, etc. Use this time to learn about students’ routines at home. Remember to celebrate differences across families!

ROBOT-BASED ACTIVITIES Children can engage with the Robot Mouse board game, STEM-based loose parts, Code-A-Pillars, blocks, manipulatives, etc. For example, you might have students build a maze and navigate a robot through it
Continue to model how to take care of classroom materials.

CULTURALLY-BASED ACTIVITIES Consider activities that give children a chance to identify sequences and algorithms. For example, hair braiding in some African American households uses specific algorithms to achieve different styles. Another example includes weaving, which can be an important part of Guatemalan culture, and uses specific sequences to achieve certain patterns. Don’t assume that an activity is a specific part of children’s cultural and home lives. Talk to families and children to find out more about individual children’s cultural backgrounds and experiences.

Remember to connect to what you’re already doing. Look for spontaneous moments when you can connect to the ideas of sequence and algorithms during activities that you and children are already doing — while singing, playing, dancing, etc.

Large-Group Possibilities

Below are a few large-group activities you can use to help prepare children for the focal experience! More ideas and resources are highlighted in the Phase 1 PDF located at the end of the webpage.

FOCAL TEXTS Read focal texts that discuss schedules and routines; read books more broadly about morning routines & routines in the home. Discuss differences in children’s daily routines before school. Don’t make assumptions! Use this time to learn about your students and the routines in their homes and communities.

STORY OR SONG SEQUENCING Emphasize story or song sequencing as part of the reading and singing that you already do! For example, after singing a song, ask questions about the order of events and discuss what happens if the order changes. Consider talking about order in stories and songs that are both linear and non-linear.

PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE Emphasize the idea of programming language as compared to written and spoken languages. Remember that written language may be new for many of your students, especially for children from homes, cultures, and communities with strong oral traditions. Be sure to celebrate all forms of languages! Young child can learn many languages alongside each other. Encourage them to value all methods of communication. You might introduce programming languages alongside activities you already do to introduce written language.

Even in large group activities, try to create opportunities for students to actively participate and to collaborate with their peers. These large group activities are a great opportunities for students to learn about your cultural background and traditions and other students’ cultural backgrounds and home traditions. This can help you to create an environment where differences are celebrated as strengths for learning.

A lesson from the CAL-KIBO Curriculum for PreK in which students learning about sequencing a story through the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

A lesson from the CAL-KIBO Curriculum in which students learn procedures for using robots and cleaning up.

A lesson from the CAL-KIBO Curriculum in which students consider different languages, including spoken, written, and programming languages.

To cite this website

Harper, F. K., Caudle, L., Quinn, M. (2021). Culturally relevant robotics: A family and teacher (CRRAFT) partnership for computational thinking for early childhood. Retrieved from: