Middle school teacher Abdou Lo’s classroom dynamic had changed. Students who typically have difficulty focusing were working diligently on their coding projects, even examining the most intricate details. On the other side of the classroom, a typically quiet student was enthusiastic to tell her classmates about the challenges she overcame to create the animations in her project.
This year Lo launched a coding program within the middle school curriculum at St. Andrew’s School. Sixth and seventh graders were introduced to Karel, a program that teaches student applicable computer science skills, as well as Python, a programming language.
Lo introduced his students to coding by discussing how it enters their lives on a daily basis. It gave the students a better understanding of the daily necessity for coding. They then started their projects with “a faint idea and set off to build a prototype,” he says. From there, they “shared it with their classmates, experimented, and continued to improve and modify it as needed.”
Through their individual projects, the students commanded the creative process. Lo, on the other hand, remained off to the side to allow students to lead. “Students had the opportunity to work on small yet elaborate projects that are based on their passions, while collaborating with peers in a playful environment,” says Lo. In December they presented their coding projects, which were animations they had individually imagined and brought to life.
Lo’s coding course embodies one method of teaching students how to communicate in the 21st century. It is one of many unique offerings in the middle school. The middle school faculty shape the curriculum to provide students with opportunities to learn through making connections to the outside world.
Sixth and seventh graders participate in 21st Century Communication, a quarter-long course dedicated to problem solving and building communication, and Social Literacy, a semester-long course dedicated to service learning and active participation within the community. Eighth graders spend the first quarter of the year taking a social justice seminar that expands upon the 21st Century Communication and Social Literacy courses.
Classes are small to meet the needs of all students. The small class size allows a collaborative learning setting, which, in Lo’s classroom, prompted students to help peers with their coding projects. “We actively and intentionally teach students how to be flexible thinkers and to embody a growth mindset,” Andra McMullen, the Director of the Middle School, says.
McMullen noted that the middle school faculty highlight “the importance of risk taking as a means to further development.” Lo’s coding course tested the students’ ability to take risks in the process of their work by learning new skills.
The have the opportunity to expand upon their learning in coding. “This course teaches the foundations of computer science and basic programming, as well as the conceptual understanding needed to learn new languages,” Lo says. Lo, in addition, offers both robotics and 3D design/printing after school programs to the entire middle school.
Lo’s hope in teaching coding to middle schoolers stretches outside the confines of computers but to everyday life. He says, “This way of thinking teaches students how to deal with large problems by breaking them down into smaller and more manageable problems.”