Building Growth Mindset Through Coding

Building intellectual resilience among students is a core task of elementary education. Posing challenging tasks such as basic coding even at the elementary level pays great dividends and fosters a Growth Mindset among even the youngest students. On December 8, coinciding with the Computer Science in Education Week’s Hour of Code event, the American Library Association and Rosen Publishing released the Libraries Ready to Code video.

Designed as an advocacy tool it aims to increase awareness of the importance of library coding programs, activities and events, such as Hour of Code, “among decision makers, influencers and other stakeholders at all levels”. As part of the Libraries Ready to Code project launched earlier in 2016, the video is the first in a series to come out in 2017.

“Libraries are community hubs for learning a variety of skills relevant to modern life, and computational thinking skills learned through coding are among the most critical,” said ALA President Julie B. Todaro. “By showing what libraries can and are already doing to build a successful future for our nation’s youth, the Libraries Ready to Code video powerfully communicates the infrastructure of expertise and resources found in school and public libraries.”

The Hour of Code initiative was started by Code.org, a website and non-profit organization, to encourage K-12 students to learn to computer science and to spur schools to integrate computer sciences classes into the core math/science curriculum. In fact, coding is now understood as a modern literacy essential to a well-rounded education. With so many STEM-based careers, knowing how to code is considered a bonus in the job market.

Since its inception in December 2013, our K-5 library students have been participating in the Hour of Code (see previous posts: Coding: A New Literacy and Coding: Taking on the Challenge of a New Literacy). Every year, there are more and more app- and web-based tools for building student skill sets. For the first time this year, however, my K-2 students started “unplugged”, using some of the engaging activities published by Code.org. We focused on algorithms (a tough concept for adults let alone K-2 students!) and there are also additional lessons on loops, conditionals, functions, and more. The purpose was to initiate comprehensive “algorithmic” thinking via step-by-step instructions using examples from students’ everyday lives, including getting ready for school in the mornings, how to make a peanut butter sandwich, and how to brush teeth. Without realizing it, students were able to define clear steps to complete a task or solve a problem. We then applied this knowledge to the fact that computers need to be given detailed step-by-step instructions to complete a task — to solve a puzzle.

All my students in K-5 used apps and websites employing visual block coding, making thought processes visible and allowing students to manipulate and control the block commands. Broadly, the learning goal was for students to be able to sequence instructions to achieve simple objectives. Kindergarten students “tinkered” with the Kodable app and 1st-grade students worked through Tynker’s Candy Crush. The 2nd graders completed the new Moana: Wayfinding With Code tutorial on Code.org’s site. Since 3rd grade was learning about the solar system, they coded either earth orbiting the sun or the moon rotating earth using the Scratch Jr. app. The 5th-grade students created animated Hanukkah cards on Tynker.com. (4th grade students will engage in a longer coding unit beginning in January.)

Lily’s space coding project:

Remy’s space coding project:

 

Madelyn’s animated Hanukkah card. 

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Maya’s animated Hanukkah card.

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Through coding, my students become engaged collaborators. This collaboration is entirely natural, not forced or required, wherein students help each other and work through problems together. At times, frustration crept up in each class, presenting an opportunity to talk about perseverance. When I wrote “perseverance” on the board in my 2nd-grade class, a student was eager to explain the meaning of the word. He explained where a teacher helped him understand what it means to work through frustration by focusing and not giving up. While coding is about instilling new ways of thinking and problem solving in our students, the life skills these lessons foster are even more valuable. Every year, I’ve witnessed high student engagement, collaboration, focus, imagination, innovation, and resilience in my students through the introduction of coding exercises. In that sense, coding is not just about computational thinking and problem-solving abilities, but also about maturity and resilience.

Student teaching classmates how to code earth rotating around its axis.

Student teaching classmates how to code earth rotating around its axis.

Building the Hour of Code week into your curriculum fosters great opportunities for Growth Mindset learning all year long.

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