GAFE + Computer Science: A Mash-up Lesson

As I’ve attended more and more conferences, summits and edtech events I have connected with so many other teachers who are in the same weird, not-really-sure-what-to-teach position as myself.  (Technology, grades 6-8, quarterly)  I’m posting this lesson because I spent 18 months feeling alone and stressed.  Hopefully all my Technology peeps out there can at least save this and get them through another week and add it to their repertoire because let me tell you…it is a good one.  (I’m only saying THAT to save you the mistakes, stress and trial and errors that I stumbled through to get this!)


This lesson is adapted from ideas taken from edCampKY and Code.Org.  I actually started the lesson and our Technology Director stopped by for a visit and pointed me in the direction of the Stage 3 lesson on and it paired beautifully with what I was already doing.  Disclaimer:  I know this is not perfect.  Everything I do is constantly evolving.  Part of the reason I am blogging about this is to reflect on what I can improve upon for next quarter.

What you will need:

  • Legos (How many?  This is completely up to you.  I average about 32 students per class and I used 2 smaller buckets and 1 extra large and divided them amongst each seat.)
  • Google Apps for Education Accounts (specifically:  Google Docs)
  • Computers for editing and writing


Since I have the personal opinion that Related Arts classes are the students own “break” in the day, I typically try to avoid rigid guidelines and structure.  I usually allow students to sit where they want if we are doing independent work and I strive to provide more of an easygoing climate in the classroom.  On the intro to this lesson, I cranked up my music, told them to go talk to someone they had not had a convo with in this class so far this quarter and ask about their weekend.  This helped get the students up moving around and also added to the intrigue (is Ms. Whitlow off her rocker?).  After a couple of laps around the room, I announced their partners and had them sit as far away from their “new friend” as possible (again: is Ms. Whitlow off her rocker?).


I gave students the following directions:

  1. Open a Google Doc
  2. Build SOMEthing with ONLY the Legos at your station
  3. Write down step by step instructions on your Google Doc
  4. When you finish, raise your hand for a photo opportunity for your Lego Thing.**

**The photos were probably my favorite part of this lesson.  Google Drive has exponentially changed my classroom dynamic and productivity.  Thanks to gClass folders, I quickly snapped a pic with my phone (you could use an iPad or any device) and uploaded straight to the students gClass folder from the Google Drive application. It literally took seconds for these photos to be saved to the students folders.  These photos came in handy during the decomposition portion of this lesson.

This was a nice, simple introduction to the concept of algorithms….Plus, who doesn’t love building with Legos?  I only allowed them 1 class period (50 minutes for me) to build and write “directions.”

…The next day…

  1. Switch seats with your partner AKA your “new friend” from yesterday. To keep life simple for me and less stressful for the students I wanted them to have the same Lego pieces their partner worked with the day before.  Remember, this was merely an introduction into computational thinking.
  2. Log into your Google Drive.
  3. “Share” your directions (from yesterday) with your partner.
  4. When you receive your partner’s Google Doc, start building. NO COMMUNICATING ALLOWED.
  5. Once you have completed the directions to the best of your ability, raise your hand for a photo opportunity.**

**I used my phone and gClass folders to upload their PARTNERS photo to THEIR gClass folder so that they could compare and contrast the two Lego Things. Again, I was able to do this in a matter of seconds and the students immediately were able to begin decomposition.


Only 4/186 students were able to correctly duplicate the Lego Thing according to the directions.  From my computer/projector, I was able to pull up students gClass folders and as a class we were able to compare/contrast the before/after photos between all groups.  It was a great discussion because it led us directly to decomposition…What happened?  Where did I go wrong in my “directions”?

After our discussion, I went over the basics of computational thinking.  I integrated parts of this lesson into the days assignment. 

  1. Decomposition
  2. Patterns
  3. Abstractions
  4. Algorithms

If you are new to computational thinking and coding in the classroom, then you are probably wondering why in the world we started with algorithms.  In my personal experience with coding…it is completely overwhelming to students if you start off with “Hey kids, today we are studying computational thinking…”  (Not to mention teachers…) What the what?!?  You’ve lost them.  With Legos?  You win.  Starting with something easy that everyone recognizes, then completing a task where most of us fail, created an environment where we were all experimenting and learning from each others mistakes.  Ultimately creating a climate that I want for EVERY lesson.  Together we learn through our failures.  It’s pretty awesome.

Final Algorithms

I never deviated from that original Google Doc.  The students knew I wanted to see their original work.  Their decomposition happened in the “Comment” mode of the Google Doc.  Their Patterns and Abstractions happened in the “Suggesting” mode of the Google Doc.  They were frequently collaborating with each other during the entire process of computational thinking…all on their original Lego Thing.

Once they finished, their original partner tested out their final algorithms.



Maybe you want to participate in the Hour of Code next week but you are lacking devices, this lesson is right up your “unplugged” alley.  Trust me, the kids will LOVE IT.

Happy Coding!

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