How can a one-hour activity mean so much to young learners? Many students around the world will participate in Hour of Code, some of them for the first time. They will thirst for more opportunities to code. In September 2013, I wanted my sixth grade class to participate in the Hour of Code through Scratch’s user-friendly tutorials. Maybe it was my own interest in seeing how code works in schools, or my appreciation of technology and the people who create coding programs. I had a hunch coding would be a hit with my students who love technology and needed to understand math in a new way. I thought we would code a few small projects. More than two years later, we are still coding!
I have been teaching elementary students for 14 years, mainly in math and science. Students often struggle to understand math because they don’t see the real-world application. On one occasion, a student asked where she would see the Cartesian Plain in everyday existence. The best answer I could provide was playing Battleship. Now, I can turn to coding as a compelling way to engage students in concepts that are tougher to grasp. When you bring coding into your classroom, you will see it is an amazing application of skills you already teach, enriching existing programs. Scratch has made this instruction easier given its kid-friendly block coding approach.
I first realized the benefits of coding when I was teaching the characteristics of shapes. How many times have you taught that the opposite sides of a rectangle are not equal, or that the sum of the interior angles of a parallelogram are 360 degrees? Using Scratch, students developed codes to help them understand the differences between shapes. When I offered my help, they politely told me they would rather figure it out on their own. The kids and I fell in love with Scratch coding; we surpassed our first hour of code ages ago. By year’s end, we estimated that we completed 120 hours of code!
For a geometry lesson, I challenged the kids to develop a program that solves the volume of 3D shapes. As teachers, we often post formulas in the front of the classroom. With Scratch, the students developed the code to solve for volume and developed an understanding for why the formula works.
Mistakes are welcome and encourage students to talk through the solution. “We forgot that volume is 3D,” said Gracie. “Why don’t we add a list so the user can compare volume when the variable is changed?” questioned Joshua. Grayson figured out how to add metric units to his formula and 25 heads in my classroom perked up from their computers in amazement. Before wrapping up our lesson, Grayson had the opportunity to present his coding script with the class and other students were eager to learn from his discovery.
When I think of coding successes, my former student Richard comes to mind. Richard was an exceptionally bright student. He did his math and understood the lessons. Richard did well on tests, but admitted to me that he did nothing more than repeat what he learned. The knowledge was evident in Richard, but the passion was lacking. Richard found his voice in coding, and I could see a stark difference in his engagement and enthusiasm for learning. He was even looking forward to taking computer science courses in high school.
I encourage all schools and teachers to participate in the Hour of Code. Scratch recently launched a partnership with Cartoon Network, so children can code with some of their favorite characters, like the We Bare Bears, making the experience even more fun and relatable.
Here are a few of my best tips for teachers just getting started:
- Participate in the Hour of Code opportunity offered by Scratch. It is a wonderful entry-point and a springboard for more discovery. I started with a single Hour of Code, and my interest has grown into a passion, both personally and for my students.
- Start small. Use Scratch to program shapes of various sizes. Allow students to experiment with different coding blocks, so they see how the shape can change. You’ll likely be surprised at how quickly they pick it up!
- Find teachers on Twitter who are incorporating code into their lessons to get new ideas and consult on best practices. You will be surprised how well coding fits into every math strand (and other subject areas) you teach.
- Assign mentors to help younger students with coding tutorials and explain what coding means to them. When students advocate, other classes will wonder how they can learn to code as well. In many ways, the need to teach code is coming from our students.
Never before has it been so easy and worthwhile to bring coding to all students. Consider how your efforts will influence a new generation of problem-solvers and creative thinkers!
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