– 5th grade teacher, Alana Aaron, with a student. –
Who Can Code?
Engaging All Learners with Computer Science in the Elementary Classroom
I’m Alana Aaron, a 5th grade teacher in Washington Heights, New York City. I discovered the Hour of Code in 2013 at a Universal Design for Learning professional development and implemented it in my classroom. After I saw the level of engagement with my students in that first hour, I decided to implement Code.org’s 20-hour course in my classroom.
I don’t have a background in Computer Science, but I believe I can teach anything at the elementary level. So I decided to figure it out alongside my students. I tried the puzzles myself at home each night to try to stay ahead of my students. Quickly, I found my students were getting ahead of me. It was then I realized my role should be more of a cheerleader than a know-it-all.
Since that first course, I've continued to implement Code.org's curriculum as well as provide professional development for other teachers in New York. Here are a few things I’ve learned teaching computer science to my own students and working with educators who teach computer science around the country.
1. All students should be learning computer science.
Recently the Mayor of New York announced the #cs4all initiative for the city’s schools, which reflects the growing trend towards valuing computer science. It’s not just about teaching how to program, but teaching higher level thinking skills, such as logic, problem solving, creativity, and persistence.
– Julainee, a student in Alana's class, works on a Code.org activity. –
2. You don't need a computer to learn computer science.
One of my favorite things about teaching the Code.org curriculum is that it has a mix of “plugged” and “unplugged” activities, meaning lessons that require a computer, such as Code.org's online puzzles, and lessons that teach computer science concepts without the use of a device. A lot of teachers at the elementary level who are new to computer science tend to be intimidated by unplugged activities, but once these teachers attend our professional development, or just give the lessons a try, they quickly see value in them.
– Learning computer science without computers. Here is Claribel (left) making a "Functional Sun-catcher" to learn about
functions, and Aleah and Jhonathan (right) making "Binary Bracelets" with binary code of their initials. –
3. Both high and low-achieving students can feel successful at computer science.
Below is a picture of two students of mine. The student on the left is a typically high-achieving student, while the student on the right struggles in most content areas and has an IEP. With the Code.org curriculum, they are able to work collaboratively and both feel equally successful.
– All students can find success in computer science activities. –
The highly animated, fist pumping student you see below also struggles in school. When he tried Code.org’s new Minecraft tutorial for the first time and succeeded, he couldn’t contain his excitement.
– Celebrating one of his many successes with computer science. –
4. Students with “behavior problems” can express themselves through code.
These students started the school year with a "bad" reputation for all the behavior issues they had the previous year. Alyssa would put on her hood, rest her head on the desk, and refuse to do any work. Computer science activities gave Alyssa an outlet for her creativity. You can see here she’s showing off her Play Lab creations in front of the class.
Christopher compensated for his lack of confidence by acting out, but with coding he found a new way to focus his energy. Below you can see Christopher’s reaction after he completed a puzzle from Code.org's Course 4 he had been working on for three days straight.
– Later that day he gave an Oscars-style speech thanking all of his family members who'd helped solve the puzzle. –
5. Students with Disabilities, English Language Learners, and Students with Interrupted Formal Education can also code.
I have inclusion students in my room with autism, and computer science gives them a way to communicate with their peers. Lindsay was able to work in a pair when typically she didn’t interact much with other students.
Andrew, meanwhile, is obsessed with the Dash & Dot robots, and expresses his ideas by programming the robots to say what he wants to express.
You can’t quite see her behind Andrew, but one of our students recently moved from Yemen and had a lot of previously interrupted education. We were able to put the the Code.org puzzles into Arabic for her, and it was the first time she finally felt like she was able to do what the other students were doing in the class.
Moral of the story?
Anyone can code — even President Obama. So why not you and your students? There’s no better time than now.
Editors Note: If there's a topic you'd like to see us cover, add it to the comments below. If you know of an educator who is doing something amazing with technology, let us know by sending a message to email@example.com.