Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Do I Know Programming Encourages Creativity and Critical Thinking?

Three real feel-good moments happened today during my morning programming lesson.

First: I've abandoned the code.org Paper Airplanes lesson due to previously-mentioned reasons; I just wasn't feeling it. Instead, students are writing instructions for how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we're making MUCH more progress.

We're much more focused on the main content, that when approaching a complex task, it's best to decompose into individual steps. This is pretty similar to code.org's Computational Thinking lesson I taught last year. Students made a first attempt at the algorithm that crashed and burned miserably. I would follow their instructions exactly as stated, and wound up rolling a jar of peanut butter over a loaf of bread still in the bag several times. Then, with a chance to revise their instructions, we saw that the task could be broken up into a few chunks: get your materials, put peanut butter on the bread, put jelly on the bread, and put the sandwich together. This helped students see that each of those chunks was made of several steps, and they were able to think more clearly and organize their work.

This, I feel, is much more in-line with the point of the Paper Airplanes lesson. We were even able to talk specifically about sequencing - that there are some steps that can be re-arranged, but others MUST happen in certain orders. We had good discussions, and I could tell kids were totally with me.

The second and third feel-good moments both happened once students were working independently on code.org. One student found a solution to a puzzle that used fewer than the stated minimum number of blocks!

The code totally checks out and works as needed, but she was able to come up with a more efficient solution than code.org had! I helped her re-create the bug and report it, so we'll anxiously await code.org's response. The student seemed pretty pleased with herself, though - she may have contributed to the development of a website that has an audience of millions!

Finally, as I was just on my way out of the classroom, a student stopped me and said she had found a solution that wasn't recognized by the site. I had her test the code and break it down, and sure enough, she completed the puzzle correctly! The site expected that students would HAVE to use a "Turn left 45 degrees" block, but she approached the problem differently and turned right instead - and wound up moving backwards through the puzzle to create the image. Her outside-the-box thinking may also contribute to making the site better!

I know some folks would be put off by a site that is so widespread, but still has bugs; not me. I think it's such an awesome learning experience for students. Not only are they testing others' work to find mistakes, but they're also really immersed in understanding the development process, that others can contribute to your work in indirect ways by reporting bugs and expanding knowledge.

Seriously. EVERY school should be teaching programming.
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