Paper Coding With the Interactive Whiteboard

Paper Coding With the Interactive Whiteboard

In this activity I want to share a neat way to engage students with paper coding using the interactive whiteboard (IWB). Based on my research with Reggio Emilia, I have come to realize how important it is for the environment to be a third teacher. That is, teacher as teacher, student as teacher and environment as teacher, all providing immediate feedback. Secondly, this activity only requires an IWB, grid paper,math manipulatives and some creativity!

Learning Goals:

  • We are learning how to provide clear instructions
  • We are learning about Cartesian Plane and location and movement
  • We are learning to collaborate, solve problems and think critically

Educators around the globe have found very innovative ways to incorporate coding into their lessons. This activity might occur in an English class, for example. To begin the lesson, ask students to think of their favourite fairy tales. In our example, we will use Peter Pan.

Lesson Starter:

After providing students with appropriately sized grid paper, encourage them to create characters – Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and Captain Hook. They may wish to use math manipulatives for each character, or perhaps even draw and cut out their own artwork.

Next, ask for student volunteers to take on roles at the IWB.

Role 1 – The Coder

Role 2 – The Tester

Role 3 – The Bot

Each student will then work on the IWB while classmates follow along at their seats. You may wish to set up this next part ahead of time, or in the moment with feedback from the class.

The goal of this activity is to write a program that helps Peter Pan rescue Tinker Bell from Captain Hook using the following symbols:

Student at their desks can practice writing algorithms (sequential steps) to move Peter Pan. The Coder should begin to write an algorithm on the IWB while classmates follow along. Once a sequence has been created, the Tester gives instructions one at a time to the Bot who will move Peter Pan accordingly.

Instructions might include:

“Move forward.”


“Move Backwards (5).”


Sandbox activities like this provide multiple entry points and are very low floor / high ceiling, meaning we can extend this lesson to make it more challenging. Teachers might wish to use different symbols, words, conditional statements and loops. For example, “If Peter Pan is within 3 blocks of Captain Hook, then go back one space.”

Teachers may also wish to add barriers. In this example I have added blue blocks.

I would finish this activity by asking students to create their own version using a different fairy tale before demonstrating to the class. Students must also provide multiple answer keys and discuss which ones are more efficient. It would also be neat to have students mimic what they see on the IWB by walking steps on the floor tiles.


“The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It is a pedagogy described as student-centered and constructivist that utilizes self-directed, experiential learning in relationship-driven environments. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery through a self-guided curriculum. At its core is an assumption that children form their own personality during early years of development and are endowed with “a hundred languages”, through which they can express their ideas. The aim of the Reggio approach is to teach how to use these symbolic languages (e.g., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. It was developed after World War II by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy, and derives its name from the city.”


While the specific expectations of this task might include geometry or story telling, the “soft skills” students develop as a bi-product of this approach have often been referred to as “21st century competencies.” I won’t bog down here with jargon, I just want to make reference to research, pedagogy and innovative ways to using coding, the IWB and grid paper to engage students in rich discussions based on stories that have been around forever.


  • How would you change this lesson?
  • How would you assess this lesson?
  • How could you scaffold this lesson?
  • How could we make better use of the physical space making this more kinaesthetic?

Please comment below!

For more lessons, activities and ideas, grab a copy of my book, Code Breaker, on Amazon here!

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2 Responses for this post

  1. Lee MacArthur
    Lee MacArthur
    | |

    I don’t teach coding yet but I can see using this in my math classes for distance, midpoint, and for learning to express coordinates. Thank you for the ideas.

  2. Lori Barbato
    Lori Barbato
    | |

    This is a great idea. I expose my grade two students a variety of coding experiences every year. Since I don’t have an IWB in my class, I would substitute my hundreds carpet ( and have a student move physically according to the coding commands given by the coder.
    P. S. I have s cousin who lived in Reggio Emilia.


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