As described in my last post I had introduced Scratch to a small group of my Grade 5 students. I was excited about the results and looking for ways to introduce Scratch to the rest of my class. I found the right time when my class was learning about polygons. I had a lesson in mind that I knew Scratch would be perfect for. But before students could use Scratch for my polygon lesson, they would need a basic understanding of how coding worked.
I decided the best way to get them to understand coding was through a little role playing. First I explained to students that I was a computer and that computers are actually dumb. They can't do anything unless someone else tells them how to do it and what to do. I explained that it is the people behind computers that are smart. I had the students give me commands and I acted out what they did. You could role play like this with any commands. I chose to have students help me draw a square because that led well in to my polygon lesson. They quickly caught on that they needed to be very specific. After I had demonstrated how to act like a computer, I paired up students and had them practice the same thing with their partner.
The cool thing was that my students clearly had a beginners understanding of coding. Upon later student reflections, many students told me one thing they have learned from coding is that "Computers are actually dumb. It is people that are smart." This may sound a bit funny but I actually think it is a huge understanding. From this lesson my students were beginning to understand that they had the power to control computers.
There is a lot of talk in education about preparing 21st century learners. Most educators I speak with agree with Mitchel Resnick who stated in his article Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society,"In today's rapidly changing world, people must continually come up with creative solutions to unexpected problems. Success is based not on what you know or how much you know, but on your ability to think and act creatively." We educators agree that we must teach students to be creative and to problem solve. Many of us also agree that students need to be competent with technology in order to navigate the world they live in and will live in. Yet, I have often found myself guilty of teaching my students how to be a tech user rather than creator. As suggested in Scratch Programming for All, it is as if I have been teaching my students to read but not write. Mitchel Resnick suggests "Digital fluency requires not just the ability to chat, browse, and interact but also to design, create and invent with new media." When my students began to understand that they can control computers they began to grasp the fundamental concept behind digital fluency. They can create. They can learn to both read and write. It is hard to teach someone to write without first giving them a pencil. This lesson was the first time they held a pencil.
Above is the edited, shortened glimpse at the lesson. Below is the whole class introduction unedited.
Mindy Slaughter is a classroom teacher at UNIS Hanoi. She started learning to code when some of her students wanted to study it for the PYP Exhibition. She has since help start the Elementary Coding Club and is a founding member of the Global Codeathon. She believes coding opens the doors for student creativity and is working to integrate it into the curriculum.