By Tracy Trexler
Here’s how we use computer coding to prep students for career success, improve their communication skills, encourage active engagement, and support social-emotional learning.
When I received a Listserv email from the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, filling me in on the CoderZ online learning platform and the Cyber Robotics Coding Competition (CRCC), my curiosity was piqued. As an 8th-grade science teacher who also runs our STEAM club, I get to spend about $2 per student per year (the rest comes out of our pocket). The fact that the platform was initially offered for free made it accessible for us. Plus, it centered on computer coding, and that’s the future.
Two years later, we’re using CoderZ at all grade levels. Here’s what we learned about maximizing the platform in a way that benefits all students who use it:
- Make it accessible. For the first year, we were going to the computer lab once a week. The kids told us that just wasn’t enough time; they were just begging to get in there. So, we started going twice a week to ensure that they had ample time. I had the lab open first thing in the morning because I also had some students who didn’t have computer access at home. So, they were coming in at 7 AM to sit in a computer lab and play around with the coding. The experience really built a new level of thinking. It was higher-level taxonomy type thinking that required students to go above and beyond. By making it accessible, we were able to give a larger group of students these opportunities.
- Put the student in the teacher’s seat. Coding was a bit scary for me, but my students picked it up quickly and are always excited to get to show me something. It basically turned the tables for them. Even if they didn’t know, they made sure that they did know so that they could show it to me. They became the teachers and I became the student. They took great pride in that because previously they would come into my classroom to get the answers from me, and now I was coming to them.
- Use it to modernize your classrooms. School systems are archaic. If you look at a car from the 1920s and you look at a car from today, they’re completely different. If you look at a classroom from the 1920s it’s desk, chair, and chalkboard. If you look at a classroom from today it’s desk, chair, and whiteboard. For the students, technology is in their face continuously. If they really want to know something, they’ll just ask Google or Siri and have it in no time. Coding helps to bridge the gap in the classroom. This is a time that, while at school, students get to use technology in an enjoyable way, but while being actively engaged and learning a lot.
- Get the whole school involved. Use a contest, raffle, or boot camp to get everyone on board and involved. That way it’s not just impacting the kids whose science teachers are really excited about coding—or, the students who already know about it. For example, we used a boot camp approach and a scoreboard for the entire school to see. Everyone can see which student is #1 in coding for the day. That pushes the rest of the kids to go home at night thinking about how they can come in and compete for that top spot the next day.
- Encourage new career paths. We had one child who was very sheltered and withdrawn due to her home life, and by the end of the year we’d broken through some of those barriers thanks to robots and coding. “You know what Ms. Trexler,” she said to me, “I was going to be a hairdresser, but I think I’m going to become an engineer now.” To help support that dream, we loaned her a laptop that she could use at home, and also let her take home some of the VEX robots. She just fell in love with the building and the coding, the whole aspect of it. We had a similar situation with a different student who also opened up after getting involved with the coding. It’s just amazing how that works.
Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders
Most jobs of the future will require computer coding of some sort, be it factory positions; a job with Facebook or Google; or an outside sales rep; we’re all going to have to know how to use technology beyond just sending email and searching the web. Along with prepping them for career success, coding also teaches students communication skills, active engagement, social-emotional learning, enthusiasm, and more. Those are things that we can’t teach just from a textbook and it really does help us shape tomorrow’s leaders.
Tracy Trexleris an eighth-grade science teacher at Princeton Middle School in West Virginia.