Kim wanted her students to use computers for more than consuming media and playing games. So she used coding classes to help kids see technology as a tool for channeling their creativity.
Last year, I connected with the creators of Code.org through Twitter and discovered the Hour of Code as a way to spark students’ imaginations about learning and creating with technology. Since becoming a Media Specialist, I had noticed that my students were avid gamers, but they knew little about harnessing the power of technology to make things. So I decided to find a way to help them tap into their creativity.
During the week that Hour of Code took place, every class that came to the media center was introduced to writing computer code. Students used a form of code called Blockly, which allowed them to put blocks of code together to make characters move across the screen or complete actions. There were Angry Birds who wanted to get the evil pigs, zombies that ate plants, and Anna and Elsa from Frozen, who skated to create beautiful designs on ice. I also introduced other tutorials from websites such as Tynker and apps like Daisy the Dinosaur.
But the best thing about all of these lessons was that I could learn alongside my students! I didn’t need to be an expert right out of the gate to show my students the different things they could create using technology. It was very exciting.
Suddenly I found my curiosity piqued. Who else was delving into the world of teaching students to create using technology? As I explored more on Twitter, I discovered organizations such as Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and Code Academy. Through them, I gained a lot of knowledge about the possibilities of teaching students to code.
Since then, I’ve begun planning an afterschool coding club, which is set to begin after state testing. After students take some mini lessons on coding that I am developing using Scratch Ed and Scratch Jr, they will design their own projects or remix old work to make something unique and new. In order to help my students as they learn, I’ve started taking Computer Science 50, a free course out of Harvard offered through edX. I’m also researching grants to help fund these coding activities and looking into partnering with Computer Science majors at local colleges to provide support. It’s challenging work, but well worth it.
Is coding the new literacy? Considering how much technology touches our lives, perhaps it is. Do students who come from poverty or who struggle academically benefit from learning how to code? Absolutely—coding teaches problem-solving skills, logical thinking, and grit since students have to write code, test it, and fix it when it doesn’t work (which rarely happens the first time).
When I teach students to code, that’s a philosophy I try to convey: that it’s ok to fail as long as students are learning, fixing their mistakes, and learning to count on one another for help. As long we continue to learn, we must keep trying. That’s what students will need to do as they use their creativity and skills to solve tomorrow’s problems.
Kimberly Howell-Martin (@kmhmartin) is a Pre-K—5 Media Specialist at Palm Terrace Elementary in Daytona Beach. She loves reading and learning new things. Her motto this year is “Fail Forward.”