Finding Time to Code

I had the privilege of being invited into Susan Gatt’s 4th grade class at Rosa Parks yesterday to introduce her students to coding.  Elementary teachers often talk with me about their interest in having their students learn to code, but struggle to find space to teach it.  Last year our district tried out Code Monkey for beginning coders, but this year we have been really happy with the free courses at code.org and through Kahn Academy.  I have done an introduction to coding lesson many different ways over the past few years as a TSA.  Often, I start by giving 1 student a task, such as picking up a water bottle that is across the room, and having students agree on some common commands to use.  Students quickly find that they need more commands than they had originally thought, and discuss how to be more creative with the few agreed-upon terms.

Yesterday, I tried something different.  First, I showed the introduction to coding video.  There’s a clip in there where Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat talks about how he took coding classes in college and I knew that would create a buzz as the big Warriors/Spurs game was happening that same night and right now it feels like everyone in Berkeley is a Warriors fan.

I talked about how learning to code involves both an excitement about solving puzzles and a willingness to open your mind to figure out how to translate ideas for a computer.  I said that we are translating all the time to help people understand what we want.  I flashed up quick photos of my two boys from spring break, Mason and Egan:

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As it turns out, Mason gets really frustrated when he is not understood and Egan is able to understand and translate for Mason better than anyone in our family.  A typical exchange sounds like this:

M: “Mason Funi.”

Me: “Oh, you said something funny?

M: “No, mama, no!  Mason funi.”

Me: “Sure, Mason, I’ll get you some food.”

M (increasingly irritated): “No, mama, no mama, no! Mason funi.”

E: “Mom, he wants a smoothie.”

M: “Yep.  Mama, Mason Funi.”

I shared this interaction with the class, knowing many of them could relate with their own younger siblings and talked about one part of learning to code, was both learning how to communicate with the computer and learning to debug your code when things didn’t work as you had expected.  We laughed about how Egan is the only person in the house sometimes who is able to debug Mason’s code.

There is a lot I like about the code.org curriculum.  Coincidentally, they were Skyping later that afternoon with Gene Luen Yang, author of Secret Coders which is a fabulous graphic novel that involves binary and coding.  My son loved it and it was really cool that Susan’s class had been reading it and other novels by this author.  What a thrilling afternoon for them and I’m so glad I was a part of it.  Rosa Parks is the first school in Berkeley to have gone 1:1 in 4th and 5th grades and I love seeing all the creative directions that teachers have gone in when using Chromebooks.

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