PLYMOUTH, Mass. — When I was 8 years old, my father began teaching me a programming language called BASIC, using an Epson QX10 computer.
I would spend hours coding names and phrases that would scroll across the screen in different shapes and patterns. Within a year, I was coding my very own “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories. My friends and family would select the conflict, plot and resolutions in my fictional “masterpieces.” I was empowered! I was engaged! It was authentic learning.
This early experience would prove pivotal in my life. Learning to code at such an early age not only increased my self-confidence but also fostered creativity, curiosity, self-directed learning and continued explorations of computer science.
Related: When the entire class is a game
Years later, the Hour of Code rekindled that passion. A global movement that now reaches tens of millions of students in nearly 200 countries, Hour of Code began as a one-hour introduction to computer science designed to demystify coding and broaden participation in computer science. More than 100,000 Hour of Code events have taken place this year, with most of them occurring during Computer Science Education Week earlier this month.
Thousands of students in Plymouth public elementary schools participate in Hour of Code, a lynchpin in our technology curriculum for the past three years.
While many teachers participated on their own, our district’s technology integration specialists also worked alongside many teachers to cultivate an interest in computer science for our students.
We’ve also invested in bringing coding to life through project-based learning using Wonder Workshop’s educational robots, Dash and Dot. The robots’ friendly and approachable appearances, in combination with fun greetings and sayings, quickly replace any anxieties and apprehensions with laughter and excitement. The hands-on experience authentically engages every single student. With apps and online lessons, we’re able to differentiate instruction for students by level and interest. Dash and Dot can easily be integrated across the entire elementary curriculum using corresponding Massachusetts State Standards, ISTE Standards for Students and Common Core Standards.
In robotics, students explore practical applications of computer science by completing activities such as classifying triangles, measuring area and perimeter, composing music using a xylophone, measuring angles, sharing news reports, locating coordinates and using a number line. I have found that hyperdocs are a fabulous way to share these differentiated activities.
This winter, our after-school coding club and bi-weekly technology classes will allow students to continue learning about coding. Parents and guardians will receive information explaining the history of Code.org’s Hour of Code and how students may continue coding at home through free resources.
Experiences and progress will be shared through social media. I will also be posting challenges on my classroom website that allow students to create, share and reflect on their coding progress. In January, fourth- and fifth-grade students will have opportunities to join the robotics club, which uses the Lego Mindstorms EV3 software. They may participate in the Plymouth Elementary Robotics Rally in March, which is co-sponsored by our department for educational technology and our department for science and technology/engineering. Our director of technology also runs a summer coding camp in which students can learn about GameSalad, GameMaker and GameStar Mechanic.
Although our computer science journey was rooted in the Hour of Code, its expansion across our district reflects a multiplicity of approaches centered on four pillars that can inform the work of districts and educators around the country.
- Exploration: Allow students free time to explore before participating in an activity. I tell them to “Show me what you can do!” I am always pleasantly surprised!
- Choice: Empower and excite students by allowing them to select their activities, devices and tools for participating in the Hour of Code.
- Extensions: Provide students and parents with resources and/or opportunities to continue honing their skills at home.
- Reflection: Allow students to share what they learned or accomplished with their peers or ultimately to a global audience.
Together, our efforts have sparked authentic student interest in computer science.
I am passing the torch that was unknowingly passed to me back in 1983, when my father taught an 8-year-old girl how to code.
Joli Boucher is a technology specialist for the Plymouth Public Schools.