stumbling through computer science

Month: April 2020

Collective Success

I feel like teachers and schools are working harder than ever to keep our students on track.

After spending countless hours redesigning our courses, setting up Google Classrooms, and getting devices out to numerous students… only a few of our kids are taking advantage of these resources or online spaces.

This is frustrating and worrying for the success of our kids and also a reflection on my level of professionalism as a teacher. It is challenging not to feel guilt about being paid while others around the globe have lost their jobs and are now relying on government relief funds.

Despite this worry, I always try to come back to the thought that we ARE doing our best and not to take it personally if students don’t participate, or spend time pressuring students or parents to get their kids online.

We have no idea what’s happening right now in students’ minds, hearts, and homes that’s causing them to put academics on the back burner. 

Resist the natural human tendency to make assumptions and judgements: These kids don’t care. The families don’t value education.  I’m not doing my job. Why am I getting paid to do this?

Instead, get curious. What else might be going on that’s preventing Google Classroom from being their foremost priority? How else could we drag content out of what they are already doing at home? How can we support without it looking like we are nagging on the students to get online?

I’m finding that it is nearly impossible to focus on ANYTHING or complete a task that is longer than 10 minutes. There are many days I’d rather watch TikTok videos or countless episodes of Netflix shows than get work done; I do the bare minimum because my concentration is shot.

And this is with the maturity level, self-discipline, and time management skills of an adult who’s living in a safe and peaceful home! I can’t imagine spending hours a day on schoolwork right now as a kid, especially if that work was not required for your final grade.

If your students would rather play and Facetime with friends than do school work right now, keep in mind that a) that’s normal behavior for kids, and b) these can be coping mechanisms for stress. 

Kids and adults alike are engaging in numbing behaviors and distractions to help them deal with the stress of being confined to their homes. You personally may be coping well, but not everyone is, and making them feel shame about being unproductive in a pandemic isn’t likely to help.

So, don’t blame yourself OR your students if they’re not completing the work.

This is a time when it’s more important than ever to work from a human-centered lens, where we put our collective socio-emotional wellbeing first.

Even if your district is expecting you to teach like everything’s normal, you can infuse grace and empathy in your interactions with kids. You can start class with check-ins, be kind in your late work follow ups, and so on.

Focus on what you CAN control rather than escalating consequences for the stuff you can’t. Your job is to simply continue offering support. 

Keep looking for meaningful ways to connect with your students and engage them in ways THEY care about right now (here are some ideas that are working for fellow teachers).

Measure your success by how well you’re doing YOUR part, rather than by how many kids participate. 

What you’re doing right now means something, even when students aren’t doing the assignments.

You see, the way we are showing up in our daily work right now is carving out the path to where we’re going next. It is shaping the way our students and families view school. It’s establishing what is truly important in how we educate kids, and what’s most essential about the role of a teacher.

This is a time when the rigid structures that define how we do school have been stripped away. What lies underneath is our shared humanity and connection. This is the time to embrace that, in all of its messiness.

Coding – the hottest topic in teaching since sliced bread

… at least I think that’s how the expression goes.

The idea of teaching coding in school has become a global phenomenon – every teacher wants to have some sort of coding program in their classroom. Whether this is through remote learning, completing a coding program themselves and teaching their kids, or going to tech workshops as field trips with their classes. This global interest is based on the belief that it is important, both educationally and socially, for students to learn how to code or program from an early age.

Teaching kids to code or program early does not only create a pool of skilled programmers to meet the needs of the future job market, it does much more. Learning to code enables children to use digital technology to develop their creativity and problem solving skills. It empowers children in our technology-based society to fill the role of a creator of societal content and marketable skills rather than simply a consumer of global products and ideas.

What do I mean by coding and programming, exactly?

When I am talking about teaching kids to program or code, I mean that they are learning the skills to tell a machine, a computer, a software program or Web page what to do. This is a feat accomplished behind the scenes… or screens… by mobile phones, computers and social media we use every day.

Telling a software program or Web page what you want it to do requires coders to use algorithmic thinking. Algorithmic thinking breaks down the steps of a complicated task and works backwards from the final product to the initial stage. This type of thinking is a large component of the curriculum when teaching students about coding.

An example of algorithmic thinking could be a simple task such as how to make a peanut butter sandwich.

The final product?

A peanut butter sandwich.

But what steps were made to create this sandwich?

Let’s break it down into steps starting from the very basics. Please note there are additional steps which could be listed, such as open the cupboard, get out a plate, lay the plate on the table, etc. but for the sake of this example we will only be focused on the algorithm or steps needed to make just the sandwich itself.


  1. Open the bread bag.
  2. Get out two slices of bread.
  3. Put the bread slices on a plate.
  4. Get out a knife.
  5. Get out the peanut butter.
  6. Get out the jam.
  7. Open the peanut butter.
  8. Open the jam.
  9. Put the knife in the jam jar.
  10. Spread jam on one slice of bread.
  11. Put the knife in the peanut butter.
  12. Spread peanut butter on the other slice of bread.
  13. Lay the jam sliced bread jam side down on top of the peanut butter slice.
  14. Cut the bread diagonally from the top right corner to the bottom left corner all the way through.
  15. Enjoy your peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

This “Exact Instructions” Challenge video by Josh Darnit demonstrates algorithmic thinking when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by following the steps exactly… which leads to a hilarious outcome.


Teaching students about algorithmic thinking using common tasks we compete every day, such as this simple sandwich making, closes the gap between computational thinking and common sense. It shows that there isn’t that big of a difference between using algorithms in the computer to complete a task and that of every day actions. Every outcome and product can be broken down into simple steps.

Through coding and offline coding lessons (those which don’t use computers or programs to demonstrate a coding concept… see the sandwich example above), students develop algorithmic thinking skills. This enables them to better understand, interpret, and assess the impact of such thinking on our lives. Some may even take these thinking skills and take part in developing and guiding the use of algorithms in the world of the future.

Coding and computational thinking empowers children to use technology more effectively and guides them into choosing the right programs or devices to help them achieve their outcome. Integrating coding into their everyday learning enables students to better understand all aspects of the digital world and become better prepared for the future developments in tech and digitization.

10 key benefits of learning to code at school:

  1. Increased academic motivation
  2. Acquisition of mathematical, problem solving and computer skills
  3. Development of autonomy
  4. Teamwork and collaboration
  5. Critical and creative thinking
  6. Improved self-esteem
  7. Increased sense of competence
  8. Ability to find information
  9. Increased resilience in the face of challenges
  10. Enhanced reasoning, organization, and planning skills

In case you weren’t totally convinced about the benefits of coding, check out this Ted Talk by Mitch Resnick of MIT Media Lab, who explains that coding isn’t just for computer whizzes, it’s for everyone.


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