October 3, 2020: Why Making Squares Matters

I honestly never really had any experience with coding or understand it in the least until last year. A student in my class would always share stories with me about what he had made through coding and different coding programs he had explored. Most of these conversations went over my head. I found the concept of coding very abstract, making it difficult to grasp without any tangible experiences. Last year, my students participated in a coding workshop. This is where the concept started making more sense to me and I learned what my tech-savvy students meant when they referred to Scratch. What I enjoyed most about this workshop was seeing my students so willing to make mistakes, take risks, and problem solve.

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I have found that as students become older and mature, they also become more concerned with making mistakes and are often searching for reassurance that they are, “doing it right.” I jokingly tell my students, “That’s what erasers are for!” However, my little joke usually is not the antidote to increasing my students’ confidence in taking a trial and error learning approach. Although I encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes, I can’t blame them for being hesitant to do so. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I also require reassurance that I am, “doing it right” too. My inner perfectionist sometimes takes over, squashing the creative process.

My Experience as a Novice Coder

When Alec said that it was our turn to experiment with the Logo Emulator, I immediately thought, “Uh oh.” However, the Logo Workbook was easy to understand and I made it through Exercises 1 and 2 without too many hiccups. Exercise 3 gave me a run for my money. Making the square was challenging, but after re-reading the instructions in the workbook and a few more trial and error adventures, I got it! I was feeling pretty confident in my coding abilities at this point, so I attempted this:

Image found here

This figure didn’t seem like too much of a stretch. So off I went! For my first attempt, I ended up with a perfect rectangle. Although it did not match the photo to the right, I was impressed that I had the correct shape. My fiancé was curious about what I was doing, so we started trouble-shooting together.

By the time we got to our fourth (maybe fifth, sixth…?) attempt, I could not tell if we were getting closer or further and further away. However, we are far from admitting defeat! We found some strategies that were helpful, such as drawing the figure as you try to code it and writing down previously used codes to re-use the pieces that were correct. Coding reminded me of long division– all it takes is one mistake and it carries throughout the entire question, making all of your hard work incorrect. Something I noticed about coding was that I felt significantly more comfortable making a mess, deleting it, and starting fresh. Normally, I lose my patience and give up pretty quickly, but I think that starting over was so easy because the mistakes didn’t muddle my work space or thinking processes.

The Value of Learning Logo and Constructionism in Education

Constructionism was a term coined by Seymour Papert. Essentially, social constructionism is when, “Groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings.” In class, we discussed how Papert took a game-based approach to learning… Essentially, the child is learning and developing a variety of skills without knowing it. That’s the dream right? This reminded me of a student I used to teach. Last year, we did an inquiry based project where students could choose any skill they wanted, learn it themselves, and create a short video tutorial on Flipgrid (I used this project as the basis for my EC&I 832 Major Project last year). This particular student could be quite reluctant when it came to engaging with challenging tasks that involve problem solving or that, “felt like learning.” However, this student decided to design a video game. I thought this might be a little steep, but I figured, might as well try it and see what happens. As it turned out, this student did it without complaint. In addition, there was another student who designed a video game the previous year and he was asked to come down to our learning community to offer some advice to this student in my class. They collaborated and did some trouble-shooting together. A variety of issues surrounding his project were encountered, but he didn’t give up or lose patience like what may have happened in a typical classroom setting. If I had stood at the front of the classroom and said, “Okay kids, today we are going to learn about problem solving by trying some things that are difficult,” I can almost guarantee you that this student would not have engaged at all! This student developed many different skills over the course of his project. For example, social skills by working with an older student, problem solving, following instructions, reading and application of new information, technical skills in video game creation, etc. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that knowledge can be constructed, deconstructed, then reconstructed throughout the learning process without feeling like it.

Although using Logo isn’t something that comes in handy on a daily basis, the skills that go into using something like Logo are applicable to everyday life. I’m certainly not a tech-savvy person, but having the opportunity to problem solve and experiment with coding offers the chance for growth in other areas of development. Personally, I don’t think I am very good at problem solving because I am impatient and I don’t like creating a mess (in my physical space or in my brain). However, I found using Logo was a helpful way to develop my problem solving skills. There was less mess involved than in other problem solving tasks that tend to drive me crazy… Like puzzles or strategy-based board games. That being said, I think coding can be an effective way to learn how to problem solve or at least develop the stamina to engage in tasks that involve this skill… But why is being a good problem solver important?

The Value of Problem Solving

I stumbled upon a blog post that mentioned five benefits of coding for children:

  1. Coding is another language.
  2. Coding fosters creativity.
  3. Coding helps children with math skills.
  4. Coding improves writing academic performance.
  5. Coding helps children become confident problem solvers.

The problem solving piece resonated with me the most. It isn’t just about becoming a good coder. It’s about becoming a creative thinker and developing an understanding of how to go about tackling a problem. However, without exposure to problem solving and facing adversity in some capacity, children will never learn how to practice this skill. Unknowingly, effective problem solvers may apply the IDEAL strategy when working through a challenge.

View source here

What drew me to this graphic was the “explore” step. Using Logo or another type of coding program involves a lot of trial and error, even with a handy instruction guide. I like that this model highlights the value of risk-taking through exploration.

Out of curiosity, I did a basic Google search to find out what qualities employers look for in their employees. Almost every website I looked into noted creativity, trouble-shooting, and problem solving. One website in particular did a great job of outlining different characteristics of successful employees. One trait noted was creativity. They make the point that businesses are constantly evolving and innovative thinkers are a necessary component in order to keep up with the competition. These types of people often contribute to long-term success.

Aside from the technical benefits of understanding coding, I believe there are many other skills that come out of engaging in this activity. This leaves me thinking about different ways I can make coding or other problem solving activities part of my classroom. Has anyone tried coding in their classrooms before? What programs did you use? How have you implemented STEM activities? Lots to ponder!

Image found here

Thanks for taking a read!

Until next time,

-Leigh

6 thoughts on “October 3, 2020: Why Making Squares Matters

  1. Hi Leigh,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. Just wanted to let you know that you are not the only one who struggled with coding, but after figuring out the “bug” and reflecting on it, I actually thought it was fun. I was looking at coding from an EAL teacher perspective to see how could my students benefit from it? I think Brian Aspinall points out nicely the 10 reasons why kids should learn to code. http://brianaspinall.com/10-reasons-kids-should-learn-to-code/
    After learning about LOGO, Bee-Bot, various games and Scratch, I definitely see coding as an effective tool for teaching literacy. I came across a lot of literacy activity ideas on the internet that I would like to try out. I have experimented with digital storytelling before using Flipgrid where students had to record themselves and podcasting, that I used for teaching author’s purpose (entertain, informal and persuade). My students enjoyed these activities but I think coding would really make a difference since students would have more participation in their own learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Melinda! I always love it when you can take a cross curricular approach: literacy and science/math (coding)!

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  2. I JUST WANT TO SCREAM THIS BLOG POST IS SO GOOD.

    Leigh, you hit the nail squarely on the head. What I love about teaching coding and technology, it the aspect of equalized learning. Most of the time because the educator knows about the same amount as the students (arguably less) we get to step away from the role of “knowledge authority” and step into the role of learner. This gives the students not only the opportunity to teach us, but it empowers them in their learning by seeing that we are not all-knowing beings as well! This was so well written, and I hope you know that your level of self-reflection here is astounding. I know as educators sometimes we get stuck in the “well I should know this and I don’t want to look uneducated in front of the kids so I’ll just pass and move onto something else”. How can we expect our students to learn something challenging and new, when often we aren’t willing to do so ourselves.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comment, Megan! It always surprises me how many kids think the adults or teachers in their lives know everything. As Kid President says, “Everybody is a teacher and everybody is a student!”

      Like

  3. LEIGH, Amazing and Inspiring! All of it.. I feel I should perhaps bookmark this or copy the ending to show parents why we are going to learn to do some coding (goals no plan yet) later in the year!

    “I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that knowledge can be constructed, deconstructed, then reconstructed throughout the learning process without feeling like it.” So important especially for reluctant learners or those with anxiety as they don’t think they are learning.

    I absolutely love the IDEAL strategy! It makes total sense in my brain and does not cause messiness. 😉 (Ha loved that part too)

    Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts! I never thought about teaching coding until recently! Learning about the benefits and importance of this skill has definitely changed my perspective!

    Like

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