Congressional School Blog

Digital Technology Unplugged

Preparing Young Learners for Coding and Robotics

Written in Collaboration with Ross Mulry, Library and Media Services



Students in kindergarten through 8th grade are learning the concepts and foundations of coding, robotics, engineering and design. To prepare our youngest learners for the more complex lessons in coding and robotics, Ross Mulry, our Librarian and Technology Integration Specialist, unplugs the students from technology and goes offline with some valuable hands-on lessons.


Unplugged challenges – ones that are completed without the use of digital technology – familiarize students with programming and code vocabulary and the process coders use to translate algorithms into code. The value of unplugged coding lessons has been widely embraced by educators. The challenges give students important practice using the skills they will tap into when coding and programming. This fall, Ross Mulry, who teaches coding to students in kindergarten - 4th grade worked with students for two weeks on carefully selected challenges designed to ready them for plugging in and beginning to code. She describes some of the activities and challenges she’s presented to her students...




“Third grade students worked on Graph Paper Programming to grow their understanding of programming as a way to communicate an algorithm to a computer. They wrote code using their own symbols to shade certain blocks of a five-by-five piece of graph paper. They swapped their code with a partner and checked their programming by swapping back and inspecting the results together. Mistakes were discovered and solutions found with students using the appropriate terms and process. These lessons provide students with opportunity to discuss programming, use code vocabulary, and discuss the process coders use to translate algorithms into code."

"The unplugged challenges also provide valuable lessons on perseverance and persistence with students engaging in discussions about struggles they may have faced to reach a goal and the frustrations that may be present as they work towards achieving their goal. At the beginning of the school year, I presented second graders with an unplugged challenge in which students were tasked with building a structure using mini-marshmallows and toothpicks that was to be no taller than a solo cup and would support the weight of a textbook. I was thrilled to see them discussing their plans, testing as they went along, and redesigning their structures to strengthen their foundation. At the close of the exercise, students reflected on what they had learned and what the exercise was really about. They considered how they felt when their structures failed, and what problems and subsequent solutions they came up with as a result.”


“Congressional School students are challenged to solve problems through applications of engineering and coding. This may result in the creation of a bridge, a paper stool, a robot completing a task, among other innovative outcomes. Each project provides students with new opportunities for creative, critical thinking. As a part of this process, we are continuing to build on students' love of learning and curiosity.”

- Andrea Weiss, Director of Innovation and Learning


For more information on Robotics and Coding at Congressional, read our article "Embracing Robotics and Coding in Education."






Ross Mulry

Former Library and Media Services