Homeschooling

Easily Teach Kids to Code with STEM Toys for Homeschool

STEM Toys for Your Homeschool: Teach Kids to Code with Code Rocket

If you’re science-or math-averse, don’t let your own limitations keep your kids from delving into STEM projects. Code Rocket lets you teach kids to code, even if you have no idea how. The video lessons — and the interactive circuit board — walk kids through fun C++ programming projects. Because the code kids are compiling operates the physical rocket-shaped circuit board, they’ll get immediately satisfying results, like blinking LEDs and beeping sounds!

[Disclosure of Material Connections: I received a complimentary Code Rocket from Timberdoodle in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions — and photographs! ;) — are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.]

My favorite place to find STEM Toys like Code Rocket

We homeschool in an eclectic classical way, which is really just a fancy way to say we take the classical foundation, and add in lots of STEM enrichment and lots of diverse books. Aveline’s fifth-grade year is probably a lot heavier in math and science than that of a lot of other classical fifth graders, and that’s ok! Homeschooling allows the flexibility and freedom to personalize educational plans to fit the exact needs of an individual student, rather than projected needs of a generic group of students. So, STEM / classical / diverse lit, here we are! 🚀

Timberdoodle is definitely my favorite source for STEM toys in our homeschool. They curate products really well; Code Rocket is part of their 5th Grade Curriculum lineup (more on this later). Let’s jump into some of the most frequently asked questions about Code Rocket!

Q: I don’t know anything about coding. Can I teach my kids to code?

A: Yes! The most brilliant aspect of Code Rocket is that no coding experience is necessary. It uses C++ programming language, but even if you didn’t understand a bit of this sentence, your kids can use Code Rocket.

Seriously. Even if you are the least techy person you know, you can use Code Rocket. You don’t teach it. Kids use it. It’s designed to be used completely independently by your kids. The videos talk directly to the student, the tutorials walk them through everything step-by-step, and the reference cards show which coding snippets to use.

You’re not just buying the rocket-shaped circuit board, cards, and USB cable — you’re also buying a digital coding curriculum (accessible via Let’sStartCoding.com.)

Q: What additional equipment do I need?

A: You will need a computer (Windows, Mac, or Chromebook) with a USB port, and access to the internet. Code Rocket will not work on a phone or tablet.

In your Code Rocket box, you’ll receive a rocket-shaped circuit board, a retractable USB cable, and a small stack of code reference cards. Don’t toss the box! It’s a great place to store the circuit board between sessions.

Q: How hard is it to set up Code Rocket?

A: Setting up is easy! After you receive your coding kit, head over to Let’sStartCoding.com and click on “Set Up My Kit” in the upper right hand corner. The website will ask you what type of computer you have, and then will prompt you to download the right kind of program for your computer.

Don’t know how to do that? No worries! There’s a video which prompts you through the download and installation process. (My ten-year-old did this part herself.)

Once you have gone through the Set Up & Test module, your Code Rocket is ready to use.

Q: How does Code Rocket work?

A: After you install the Code Rocket program, all you need to do in order to start a coding session is open the program, and plug in the rocket via USB. That’s it! (You do need to be connected to the internet.)

There are 21 coding modules included in the Code Rocket curriculum, which will guide your student from scripted basics all the way through to freeplay mode.

  1. Rocket Light
  2. Rocket Boosters
  3. Rocket Headlight Blink
  4. Blink Blasters
  5. Speaker Beeper
  6. Morse Code Part One: SOS. LEDs
  7. Morse Code Part Two: SOS Soundwaves
  8. Morse Code Part Three: Light + Sound
  9. Morse Code Part Four: Variables
  10. Morse Code Part Five: Button Beeps
  11. Blaster Buttons
  12. Random Tones
  13. Random LEDs
  14. Basic Blaster Sound Effects
  15. Countdown to Takeoff Sequence
  16. Deep Space Headlights
  17. Booster Fade
  18. LED Circle Cycle
  19. Advanced Blaster Sound Effects
  20. Button Cycle LED Circle
  21. Hack the Code (freeplay mode)

Each of the 21 modules has six components:

  1. Intro
  2. Code
  3. Video
  4. Concepts
  5. Challenge
  6. Quiz
  7. Bug hunt

After a quick explanation of the project objective, the code is shown in its entirety — and in most cases is already functional, working to make the rocket beep and blink right away! Code comments follow each line of code, so students can read an explanation of the purpose of each line. After students read through the code, they’re prompted to watch the lesson video. The videos are short but effective, walking through each line of code, and demonstrating various ways to edit it.

During the challenge portion of the lesson, students are given several specific objectives, and are able to apply what they’ve learned to change the way the rocket functions. Once the kids are comfortable with the concepts taught in each module, they’re prompted to go on a bug hunt: code with errors is presented, and kids need to locate and fix the errors (this is a profoundly valuable skill.)

Q: What about the reference cards? How do they fit in?

A: Code by nature is exacting and precise, so it can be hard to remember exactly how to type, spell, or format the various code functions — or to remember what each function actually does.

The creators of Code Rocket thought of this, and set kids up for success by including reference cards. The double-sided cards list commonly-used bits of code, and offer a quick explanation of each. This allows kids to quickly reference needed information, and successfully incorporate the functions into each coding project or challenge.

Q: Is Code Rocket a one-time-use STEM toy, or can it be enjoyed for a long time?

A: As Aveline used the program, she kept messing with the code in more and more ways beyond the challenges given. She really enjoyed experimenting with the ways she could change the rocket’s output behavior by changing the code. This is especially satisfying, because changes to the code are immediately visible and audibly obvious on the circuit board. The freedom to play with the code in real time is the real magic in Code Rocket.

And this is why Code Rockets lifespan continues long after all 21 modules are completed. Students can continue to edit and write their own code, creating all kinds of fun glowing and beeping results on the circuit board.

Q: What coding principles does Code Rocket teach?

A: The included reference cards offer an overview following coding principles and functions, all of which are taught throughout the Code Rocket curriculum:

  1. Common syntax ; { } ( ) //
  2. if Statement
  3. else-if Statement
  4. INPUT_PULLUP
  5. OUTPUT
  6. pinMode ( )
  7. random ( )
  8. delay ( )
  9. void loop ( ) { }
  10. void setup ( ) { }
  11. for loop ( ) { }
  12. while loop ( ) { }
  13. tone ( ) / noTone ( )
  14. digitalRead ( )
  15. digitalWrite ( )
  16. analogWrite ( )

Q: What ages is Code Rocket for?

A: Timberdoodle places Code Rocket in the 2021 5th Grade Curriculum Kit, and we’re using it in fifth grade too. But as with most STEM toys, there’s no need to pigeon-hole the product into one narrow age range. The manufacturer lists the age range as 8-12. I agree, and think Code Rocket would be a great match for fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh graders.

Could you use it with younger or older kids? Maybe. Third graders may struggle with the amount of typing involved, and eighth graders and up who have already had some coding experience are probably ready for something which starts from hello world scratch, rather than something which comes with pre-compiled code like Code Rocket does.

Aveline has dabbled in code before, mostly in the form of library reference books and browser-based sandboxes, and there’s still enough brand-new information here to keep her very, very happy. Conversely, because of the video lessons, it would also work for a student with absolutely no prior exposure to code.

Q: Can I use Code Rocket even if I don’t use Timberdoodle?

A: Yes! You can even use Code Rocket if you don’t homeschool. Even though it’s bundled in the 5th Grade Curriculum kit, as with all Timberdoodle items, Code Rocket is available for individual purchase as well. I love this, because I buy from a lot of different publishers and companies, and need the option to make à la carte selections. I’m really glad we added Code Rocket to our learning lineup this year!

Click to learn more about Code Rocket, and browse the rest of Timberdoodle’s hands-on learning tools, too!

It’s never too late to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math projects into the free-play culture of your homeschool, no matter what “brand” of homeschooler you are. Remember, we’re educating children, not replicating methods. And raising lifelong learners means we need to nurture curiosity and provide ample opportunities for exploration!

P.S. Have you heard? I’ve launched a newsletter!

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