Computer coding for kids is the way of the future

Third grade students at Mohegan Elementary School are a part of the nationwide push to increase the amount of coding taught in their curriculum until they graduate high school.

The district has begun to reshape its curriculum to cater to the needs kindergartners that will graduate high school in the year 2030.

Most immediately, Shelton’s elementary school staffs have been working to increase the amount of coding its students work with via a variety of innovative coding software.

Being the “digital natives” that they are, the students at Mohegan Elementary School have begun to grasp these new concepts quickly, despite being challenging and new.

Third grade student at Mohegan, Eli Wood, 8, said parts of the new curriculum are difficult, but it’s fun for him to imagine what he and his peers will be learning in the future. 

“We’re working hard now to understand this new work so I can’t even imagine what we’ll be learning by the time we’re in high school,” said Wood.

Coding, debugging, and more

When you walk into the Mohegan Elementary School’s media center you’re greeted with a board full of coding vocabulary such as, “debugging,” “Cubetto,” and “algorithm.”

Prior to this school year, most of the students at the school had no idea what these vocabulary words meant, but within the past few weeks they have studied their definitions and applied their knowledge to the lessons they’re working on in class and for homework.

“Every kid is moving at their own pace,” said library/media curriculum specialist at Mohegan Elementary School, Joan Tichy. “We’ve been using for about five years, but we’re using it more this year.”

Tichy said provides the district with assignments, agendas and ways to measure student’s individual progress. In the past, the district only worked on coding for the month of December, but Tischi said that’s quickly changing.

“This year, 11 million students across the country were on from Dec. 4-8,” said Tischi. “It just goes to show that students all over are practicing with this new material. But, I feel very confident in our district’s ability to grasp this new part of the curriculum versus other districts.”

In a very “trial and error” learning style, third grade teacher at Mohegan, Melissa Bilotta, said her class has enjoyed the challenge of learning this new curriculum.

“Their level of engagement is huge, this is very student-driven so watching them help each other and learn through trying things for themselves is pretty exciting,” said Bilotta.

Tichy said a big part of the students learning coding is giving them instructions and then giving them enough time to solve their own questions, at least before they seek help from a teacher.

“They’re asked to work with their shoulder to shoulder partner,” said Tichy. “It’s all connected to the big idea that they will gather together to explore, create, invent, and learn using a variety of tools and materials to stimulate creative thinking in an independent and group environment.

The district’s Asst. Director of STEM and Data Management Administrator Tina Henckel said the Shelton students grasping these new concepts so quickly comes from the level of comfortability they have with technology and because of the resource offered by each of the city’s Media Specialists.

“They’re always perusing online or using new games and apps so we’re trying to embrace that more through our Library Media Specialist’s curriculum,” said Henckel. “In the classroom too, but they’re really our most skilled professionals around technology and all of the different apps that we could easily integrate into our curriculum and learning.”

Tichy said she was responsible for relaying the new coding part of the curriculum to the teachers, students, and parents. Initially, she said parents were apprehensive to hear what their children were learning in school, but have since gotten used to the idea of how education is ever changing.  

With the needs of students changing so often, Tichy said it’s also important to remember that adults can also learn from the students.

Henckel agreed.

“We as adults are learning with them,” said Henckel. “Sometimes we’ll bring in apps devices or tools and one of the students will tell us that there’s a better version of it or they use it already at home.”

With new learning tools, such as the debugging tool/game called, “Cubetto” students are now looking at this form of learning as fun versus actual work. Cubetto teaches kids to troubleshoot/debug and code through the use of robots designed to travel specific routes on a game board that is divided into boxes.

Tichy said it’s not unusual for her to have students coming to the library asking to practice coding during their lunch times.

“This is a part of us preparing these students to be SHS graduates in 2030,” said Tichy. “By 2030 is when the kindergartners will graduate, the environment and learning structure will look very different and this is part of that transition so I’m so glad to see these kids gravitating toward it.”

Before learning coding, Tichy said she had to roll out one unit that taught students about the new technology they’d be using, and a second unit that focused on how to be safe while using work environment.

Tichy said this part of the curriculum will hopefully impact what technology students can use to solve problems and create new and imaginative solutions, as well as, how can students develop confidence and skills to manage a project in an open ended process in an independent environment.

As much as this is all trial and error for the students, Tichy said every Media Specialist in the district meets to discuss their progress or struggles once a month.