We asked three educators in Ontario three questions related to
their experience with coding and computational thinking.
Greg Burns is a Computer Science and Co-op teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board.
Ian McTavish is a Computer Science Teacher, Librarian and Robotics Mentor with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.
Lynnette Raffin is a Computer Science teacher with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.
Describe what you observed as students were engaged in coding/computational thinking activities.
Greg Burns: Students really wanted to show others what they were doing, some wanted to work on it at home or didn't want to stop the activity.
Ian McTavish: I often have students that spend two to four hours outside of my class time working on problems. Not because I assign the problems, they simply love the challenge.
Lynnette Raffin: They seemed to develop as problem solvers as they learned to be self-taught. They were often using resources to find the solution to their problems. This empowered them by being able to find the solution on their own.
What were some memorable moments, quotes or experiences from your time working with students in coding/computational thinking activities?
GB: Kids were definitely interested in learning. There was a lot of enthusiasm and one teacher said that the activities engaged some of her students that weren't keen in other areas (grade 1/2).
IM: In one group project there was a group of three students - one female and two males. They came up with a project that pulled all the clothing images and data about the clothing from the American Eagle store. The program then prompted the user to pick an item and it would generate three items that would go with it - if you picked a short sleeve top it would pick shorts, a sweater would pick pants etc. Watching students debate about whether a pair of shorts matched a blouse was hilarious. It was a very impressive final project.
One of my students started our TechnoGirls program for her project. I'm proud of our results. We gave workshops to over 200 elementary female students. One of our first participants is now the captain of our robotics team.
LR: I love when I see students light up when they find the answer to a bug they were trying to fix, or when they see their game working for the first time. I also love empowering students who may not excel in other areas but do excel in coding and CT activities.
What suggestions would you give to someone who is thinking of introducing students to coding/computational thinking activities?
GB: I’d suggest using tried and tested resources to start with - there are quite a few available. Start with a short activity where kids will all have early success.
IM: Play and be inquisitive. You don't need to be the expert but it certainly helps your motivation when your students encounter problems and you can help troubleshoot them. Keep in mind that skills such as manipulating spreadsheets can be incredibly useful for students (and staff). Computational thinking is all about deconstructing problems and recognizing the patterns that you can use to solve them. The computer is simply a tool and the tools will be exponentially more powerful in the future. What stays the same is the underlying logic.
LR: Be flexible and allow for the students to teach you (and the class) solutions they have found. Sometimes I have to say "I don't know" and that is okay. Oftentimes the students end up finding the answers on their own.
Follow-up questions for educators:
Greg mentioned how students were wanting to work on coding and CT activities outside of the classroom even though homework was not assigned. What does this tell us, as Educators, about the nature of these activities?
Ian described a student project that involved images and data from a clothing retailer. How important is it to allow students choice in terms of the context of their larger projects? How does this choice impact engagement and overall achievement in the activities?
Lynnette emphasized how students developed into independent problem solvers. What is it about coding and CT activities that allow for this to occur? How can we use this knowledge to encourage students to be independent problem solvers in other areas of school and life?