Sometimes, it takes a high school sophomore or two to remind you what’s important.
Earlier today, I was reading and “grading” my students’ reflections on the coding experiences I put them through this semester, and I was really blown away by some of their personal epiphanies. I really enjoyed commenting back to them, as I think I’ve now been through enough time on this planet to say I might know just a FEW of the “answers.” After I finished, I posted the following “recipe for teacher success” to my Facebook and Twitter:
1. give kids a hard task
2. have them write reflectively
3. read reflections (bring tissues)
It didn’t take long for someone to respond on Twitter with a step 4: “give kids a hard task based on reflections.” Absolutely right. If we’re going at this whole education thing the correct way, that is the natural next step. Some people call it “life.”
One of my students, whom I teased about whining when the coding activities got frustrating, shared that she learned she has a tendency to give up too easily. She found herself relying on friends for help, or avoiding the task at hand, but then eventually prevailing when she just forced herself to push through it. I loved that I was able to respond with encouraging words, suggesting that now she can see this predilection on the horizon in future situations and self-talk her way through or around it.
She also quipped one of my favorite lines of student writing I’ve read in a while: “You know how kids don’t want to eat their broccoli at dinner? That was me with coding.”
This was the perfect opener, on their last formal writing piece of the course, for me to recognize her very effective conversational yet well-crafted writing style. It reminded me of my own blogging. Which is how we find ourselves right here, right now.
Another student observed that text-based games like the Zork series seem to act like programs themselves, that require particular commands in order to be completed. (We had modified a text adventure style game in Trinket one day in class.) I had never thought of that before. Just the act of playing a computer game, which had to be programmed by someone else, consists of commands and other actions that require thinking like a programmer.
Though one of the students in the class determined that these activities, learning coding through games, solidified for her that she has no desire to pursue programming again, many of her classmates discovered that programming was more fun and accessible to them than they had ever imagined. After all, they took this course with me to avoid taking a programming class. Since one of my goals was to alter their perception about computer science and programming, and to change their ideas about whether coding is “for them.”
I’m really sharing this reflection of my own because I feel so grateful to get to work with young people and try new things with them and witness how they respond. I feel as though if I don’t tell somebody -- everybody! -- then maybe my lack of gratitude would jinx the whole thing and I could lose it all. But also, because it seems I have discovered a kind of secret sauce that many of my amazing friends in EdTech have also found. This recipe for teacher success is a recipe for student success, for meaningful educational experiences, for happiness, for true reflective practice, for so many things we need more of in schools (and in life) but that our testing-crazed and over-committed lives frequently rob from us.