Students Discover the True Magic of Coding

Jerry Swiatek is a lead teacher at the Academy of Computer Sciences at Citrus High School in Inverness, Florida. Jerry is the founder and organizer of EdCamp Citrus, an education “unconference.” Jerry is also a Google Certified Innovator and Google Certified Trainer.

For the past couple of weeks, my PLTW Computer Science students have been dabbling in code. They've been experiencing the ups, the downs, and the frustrations of computer programming. They sometimes get frustrated with me when they have bugs in their code, and I challenge them to figure it out. I'm not doing this to be mean (although they'd probably say otherwise). I'm challenging them to help them develop their troubleshooting and logical-thinking skills. When the solutions to their problems come, they're thrilled and proud to have solved the problem on their own.

Today, I wanted my students to experience a different type of thrill by challenging them to help students less than half of their age experience the same kind of joy and excitement they experience when their code works.

We're lucky to have our local primary school right next door to our high school. Most of my students went to this primary school and still remember many of their teachers there. Today, we took a walking "field trip" to help first graders code. These young children arrived in the computer lab wondering why the older kids were there. They were cautious at first but after a few minutes began to open up. I'm talking about my high school students; they were the nervous ones, not the little ones. The young ones were thrilled to have the chance to work with high school students. They paired up and got to work.

The first graders came in with no coding experience at all. A website called Kodable was the perfect choice. Kodable requires logical, sequential thinking to move your "Fuzzy" through the mazes, something that some of the first graders had difficulty with at first. But as the hour continued, the first graders became more and more confident, and my computer science students became more and more comfortable.

That's when the high fives started. That's when the cheering started. That's when these little kids began to experience the magic and wonder that is computer programming, and my high school students began to experience pure joy and excitement.

These feelings of accomplishment and excitement that my high school students felt with their young partners is the same feeling that I get to experience with my students every single day. That feeling, when my frustrated students battle through that frustration and accomplish what they thought was impossible, is why I do what I do. I felt it was important for my students to experience that same feeling.

As teachers, we live for days like today – days when our students are not just students but also mentors and teachers. It was the code that brought these kids together. It was the magic of that code that has me thankful for the opportunity to do what I do.

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