By Sarah Trotta and Michaela Durand
You don’t need a computer science degree to get your students onboard with coding. Here are five steps to success that all teachers can use.
With the goal of introducing more students to computer coding, we started an after-school coding club in 2019. It didn’t exactly go as planned. We had purchased robots from VEX Robotics in the past, but just didn’t get much traction with them. The coding club didn’t really meet expectations either. The robots were too difficult for most of our middle-schoolers.
When we discovered the CoderZ online learning environment, it was immediately obvious that it would be relevant for a wider swath of students (namely because it wasn’t just a physical robot that they had to put together). They also weren’t relegated to coding during the school day; they could do it all after school and even at home. Last year, we had about 30 students using the program, with a smaller group that used it pretty consistently. We promoted the program a bit more in 2020 and now have over 70 students using it.
5 Success Tips
Making the leap from not offering coding to running a program that has 70 students in it came with some stumbling blocks. Here are five strategies we used to work through those issues and improve our participation rates:
- Let everyone give it a try. Don’t try to pick who can and can’t participate; give everyone a chance. We hand Chromebooks out in our school, so even students who don’t have technology at home can definitely participate in our coding program. We also let everyone know about it on our morning announcements, and then got permission from our administration to have every student in the school sign in and try it during our free block of time. We repeated that promotion a few times to ensure the biggest reach. The promotion worked: this year, we had CoderZ licenses for our whole school, as opposed to just 200 students last year.
- Create some buzz around it. When one of the CRCC (now called “CoderZ League” – an innovative robotics tournament that engages students in coding) qualifier phases was ending, our students were neck-and-neck with two other school districts in New England. It just so happens that we had an early dismissal day for parent-teacher conferences that week. We told the students that they could stay at school for the rest of the day and code with us. We bought them pizza for lunch (the school doesn’t offer lunch on early dismissal days) and wow did it help build up the excitement. Our parents loved it because they didn’t have to find a place for their kids to go on an early-dismissal day. We had about 60 students stay to code and to watch the CRCC leaderboard. It was almost like a coding pep rally.
- Make a big deal out of it. During our morning announcements, we would tell the whole school where our school was in the competition rankings and how many points we had accumulated in the last 24 hours. Everyone got onboard with it. We gave our kids shout outs and acknowledged certain students who stood out in specific ways. They all really liked that. It was almost as if they were on a sports team.
- Create a team mentality. This year, we had T-shirts made with the “Mad Coders” emblazoned on them (our school name is Madison). This really gave our students a sense of belonging and comradery with one another. Our community newspaper also wrote an article about the students, two of whom made it to the finals this year. They placed third and each received $1,000 college scholarships. When they won, everyone won. It was a pretty big deal around here.
- Get girls onboard. Using the coding platform, we can watch how quickly students move through the program and offer them encouragement. When we did our in-school finals recently, for instance, one of our female students said, “Oh my, I can’t believe how well I’m doing!” Being able to see where they stand is great encouragement for girls who might otherwise overlook STEM subjects and careers.
Like many districts, ours is going through some budget challenges right now. Still, we’re determined to give students access to the coding software. It doesn’t have to be downloaded and the kids can run it on any browser. We’ve bought a lot of licenses for many different programs over the years, and CoderZ really is the best. Even a teacher with no computer science background can try it out by downloading the program and competing in one of the competitions at a low cost.
Sarah Trotta is a Digital Literacy Teacher and Michaela Durand is a Technology Integration Specialist at Madison Middle School (part of Trumbull County Schools) in Connecticut.