You want problem solvers? Try coding!!!

Alright, I admit it…

I wasn’t sold on the idea of coding when I first heard about it because to me, it looked like just a game with no real purpose other than to entertain students.  Maybe even something that a teacher could use as a reward…

So, with a little reluctance I began to follow Brian Aspinall, an elementary school teacher who is trying to spark student curiosity with coding in Ontario, Canada.  As I read through his tweets and the responses he was getting from other teachers, I began to take notice.  I started to see how teachers were using the Hour of Code, and other applications to promote problem solving and perseverance.

Just about this time, the ITS (instructional technology specialist) at our school, Missy Payne, decided to set up the media center and allow the teachers here to sign up and try coding with their class.  My school is very blessed to have someone like Missy, who is always so willing to be a part of the learning that takes place everyday, and can see the applications that technology has within a classroom.

One day last week, I decided to follow a 4th grade class to one of the sessions and see first hand what I had been reading about on Brian’s twitter feed.  To say that I was impressed would be an understatement, I was completely BLOWN AWAY!!!!!

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As you can see, the students are given “code” in blue and have to use it to make a character perform a series of acts.  The “code” is written in student language, such as “turn left” and “move forward”.  The students can choose from different themes as they work and explore.  As I watched, I spoke with the media specialist who was laughing because a second grade girl had stood up and turned left before deciding which code to choose next.

This young man, Riley, had chosen a more difficult theme because, “I wanted a challenge”.

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As you can see, Riley has to help the character navigate over a given shape or pattern. This theme involves angles, degrees, rotations, repetition, and distances.  I have included a video below that shows Riley trying to work through a difficult pattern…

As I walked out of the media center, my mind was reeling with possibilities.  As teachers we want our students to be problem solvers, to persevere when the solution doesn’t jump out at them.  To work through difficult problems and not raise their hand right away and claim “I don’t get it”.  I had just witnessed an entire group of 4th grade students try and try again until they were able to complete a level and NO ONE complained that it was too hard, and NO ONE quit.

My Take Aways:

  • This is the ultimate problem solving activity
  • I will incorporate this into my Math Lab
  • I have to help Missy promote this
  • Some students volunteered to help others who were stuck without being asked to do so
  • I saw fist pumps and high fives!  The reward was completely internalized
  • Every student was completely absorbed in the task at hand, no “hook” was necessary
  • They were having fun
  • Brian Aspinall has to keep tweeting about this
  • This activity allowed the students to fail without fear or anxiety
  • It allowed students to create content rather than consume it

Keep those thoughts coming, because together we achieve more!!!

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