Coding and Collaboration with a Buddy System

For several years our kindergarten and third grade students were accustomed to pairing up as reading buddies to improve their literacy skills through a mentee/mentor relationship. As a result of that success we decided to use a similar model to encourage our kids to collaboratively explore coding.

Students Engaged Quickly

The first step was to find a coding platform that was best suited for our students, one that fosters creativity and diversity and encourages students to drive their own creations and progress at their own pace. It was easy to research and there are several options that are tailored to a school setting.

Once we selected one, we quickly watched our students engage with it after only a short introduction, which was amazing.  You just don’t get that level of engagement, cooperation and excitement in young students with traditional teaching practices like paper and pencil work. Our students were paving the way and creating their own content. Whatever our students imagined soon became reality on the screen.

There was always bustling around the classroom, with students exclaiming, “Wow, how did you do that? Can you show me?” We created a “Code and Tell” component at the end of our coding time, so students could share something they discovered with the class and teach each other something new while building on their oral presentation skills.

In an effort to show students that coding can have real life applications and to provide them an authentic audience with leaders in our district, we developed the Operation Code Happiness project. Through this project, a third-grade student could write a letter of introduction, including a short survey, to members of our school district’s leadership. These administrators, also known as VIPs, were asked to complete and return the survey. Upon receiving information from the VIPs, such as their favorite color, song or photograph, coding buddies worked collaboratively to design aproject specifically with their VIP in mind.

Huge Leaps of Growth

In the spring, each set of coding buddies had an opportunity to present their creation to a room full of VIPs and others interested in learning more about the students’ creative process and experience with coding. Through this effort, we saw huge leaps of growth in students’ problem solving and resilience in the face of difficult coding challenges.  It often took several attempts before coding buddies would get their creation to look, sound and move just right.  Students were motivated to complete their project as they had envisioned it for their VIP. They also leaned heavily on each other to learn new elements and build outstanding projects.

As we talk to other teachers in our school and at technology conferences, we know this is only the beginning of coding in our classrooms. Our students are excited by this unique opportunity to take charge of their learning and to weave coding throughout multiple disciplines. As teachers, we know that it’s not our job to have all the answers all the time. It is our job to supply the right learning tools and environment to set our students up for the best learning experience possible. Coding is the perfect tool to help create a collaborative and creative environment, no matter what the age or grade level.

 

Juliann Snavely is a Kindergarten Teacher at Keith Elementary located in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She has been an early childhood educator for nineteen years and has been learning to code with her students since 2014. Juliann was honored to be selected as a Michigan Voice Educator Fellow (2015-16) and as the Keith Elementary Teacher of the Year (2008).

Angela Colasanti is a 3rd grade teacher at Keith Elementary in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District.  Angela is a MI Educator Voice Fellow, a Galileo Teacher Leader and is passionate about coding with her students.