Feb 28, 2020 2020-02-28
By Renee Sudol
“Are we coding today?” My third-grade students ask as they enter the computer lab.
“Yes, we are,” I respond.
“Yay! We love coding!” The students shout. One student starts jumping up and down. This is the excitement I love seeing in the computer lab. My students get excited about different projects and activities, but there is something powerful about learning to code. I tell my students it is like having digital superpowers.
Computer science is an important twenty-first century skill and part of our New Jersey Technology Learning Standards, but I have my own reasons why I spend time teaching students how to code. I believe coding teaches students the essential skills they need for academic success.
I begin my lesson with a question: “Can anyone define the word loop?” A number of hands go up. One boy proudly explains a loop is something that goes around and around continuously. The remaining students created a loop in the air with their fingers.
I continue, “Today we are going to learn how to use a loop in our algorithms.”
Increases Student Communication
Teachers ask students to explain their thinking all the time. Coding is no different. Providing students with opportunities to share their reasoning is very powerful. Using pair-share strategies, students discuss algorithms, debate strategies, and problem solve together as a group. When students face a complex algorithm or a debugging dilemma, they are comfortable reaching out to others for support. This communication flourishes throughout the school year strengthening student partnerships.
Coding leads to amazing student collaboration and has transformed my room into a student-driven active learning environment. Students are eager to help others, share their own experiences, and encourage their classmates to keep trying. The room is filled with quiet chatter as students collaborate to share ideas, fix algorithms, and work toward a solution. It is powerful to watch students who struggle academically in the classroom emerge as leaders in the computer lab.
Strengthens Critical-Thinking Skills
Coding strengthens critical-thinking skills. I follow the Code.org CS Fundamentals curriculum, which does a great job with scaffolding skills. Students constantly apply what they learned in a previous lesson to solve more complex algorithms. According to Ann Watanabe-Crocket in 6 Benefits of Critical Thinking and Why They Matter, “The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and will face complex challenges using critical-thinking capacity to engineer imaginative solutions.” Learning how to code allows students to hone their critical-thinking skills on many levels. Teaching students to do this at an early age is critical for developing risk-taking skills and can lead to more opportunities for learning.
Hour of Code Celebration
Hour of Code has become a weeklong district celebration. We believe it is important to involve community members, Board of Education members, New Jersey Department of Education representatives, school administrators, and local law enforcement officers and invite them to code alongside our students. In addition to our Hour of Code event, I put together a Code on at Home event where students complete coding puzzles at home with family members and then receive a participation certificate. This year I organized our first Code-A-Thon school event. With an interest in connecting the Code-A-Thon to a cause, we called the event, “Can You Code? Yes, You Can!” and we asked our fourth- and fifth-grade students to bring in a canned good donation for our local food pantry. By expanding coding beyond the walls of our classroom and school, we are teaching our students the importance of computer science.
Our schoolwide computer science events did not happen overnight. I started slow, participated in training events, collaborated with colleagues, and learned the curriculum. Through some trials and tribulations along the way, I have strengthened my knowledge of computer science so that I can provide my kindergarten through fifth-grade students with the computer literacy skills they need.
As my third-grade computer class came to an end and students started to line up, two students turned to me and said, “Thank you for letting us code today. We really enjoyed it!”
I responded with a great big smile, “You are welcome. I am so happy to hear that!”
It is in these moments I know I am doing the best I can for my students.
Renee Sudol is an Instructional Technology Coach, teacher, and the elementary school webmaster for the Denville Township, New Jersey, K–8 School District. She has been teaching for 22 years and is a Google Level 1 and 2 Certified Educator and a Common Sense Education Educator. She served as the Future Ready Bronze Certification District Committee Cochair representative for her school. Renee recently presented at the NJECC 34th Annual Statewide Educational Technology Conference. You can follow Renee on Twitter.