Tynker Evens the Playing Field at Friends School of Baltimore
Andy Hanes is the current Lower School Technology Integrator and Educator at Friends School of Baltimore and a Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator. He has been teaching for 15 years, 10 of which were in a 3rd grade homeroom. You can follow him on Twitter at: @andy_hanes.
Judy Sandler has been teaching in Baltimore area private schools for 28 years. Today, she advocates for the implementation of project-based learning units to engage students and to give them voice and choice in what and how they learn. Students in her third-grade class learn through such opportunities as Genius Time, Choice Time for homework, and a project-based learning unit on Chocolate. You can follow her on Twitter: @judysandler
[Judy:] Once in a ten day cycle, third graders at Friends School of Baltimore assemble to hear their Tynker challenge of the day. When my class realizes it is a Tynker day, a resounding “YES!” can be heard throughout the room, spreading like good news around the room. Children listen to the day’s challenge and once in a while, they can’t help but call out ideas about how they plan to code the day’s course. It just bubbles out of them. Children then take their chromebooks and independently work through the lesson of the day. We stop at different points during the lesson for some direct teaching, sharing of ideas, and “A-ha!” moments when students share what they have discovered.
“Tynker has evened out the playing field in math class, and all students learn that they have the potential to code.”
Coding, like reading, has worked its way through our curriculum. In Language Arts, for our poetry unit, third grade used Tynker to code Haiku, and then the children shared the final product with their parents on SeeSaw. In Social Studies, third grade students created a timeline of Martin Luther King’s life on Tynker. They did preliminary research, added three events to their timelines that they thought were significant in his life, animated the timeline, and then if they successfully completed that, they could add music to their Tynker presentation!
Tynker is now an independent option for children to work on for homework and for free time. Since we introduced Tynker to third grade in September, eight-year-olds have learned more than just how to code. As their teacher, I enjoy watching their excitement when they are in charge of what they are creating, and observing how well they are able to self-navigate through the programs.
[Andy:] This has been a fantastic year as we have transitioned to Tynker for Schools. Previously, our school had stand alone computer science units that were collaboratively taught with the science and technology teachers in science classes in third, fourth, and fifth grades. At the time, these were units that used Logo to teach the basic principles of writing algorithms, creating programs, using loops, and dabbling in animation.
As our school continued to shift its pedagogy, we began to explore ways to introduce computer science and coding to our younger learners. Currently, we use small, simple robots and have our students begin to write simple algorithms. We integrate spelling, math, storytelling, and other skills with our coding friend Bee Bot.
The integration of content and skills is the game changer when using Tynker. Now, computer science is integrated throughout our whole curriculum. First graders are coding animated animal cells in science. Second graders are coding the lifecycle of a butterfly. Third graders are coding an animated haiku and an interactive timeline for Martin Luther King, Jr. Fourth graders create a Halloween game, an interactive simple circuit, and an animated Greek myth. Instead of having a stand alone computer science unit in the science curriculum, our science teacher is in the process of using Tynker projects in each of her science units, fostering the integrated model.
Second through fifth graders spend one day in our 10-day schedule during math class completing a Tynker course. Here, students learn basic principles (sequencing, repetition, events, conditional logic, animation, sending and receiving messages, etc.) that allow our integrated projects to be more successful. Our hope next year is that we will be able to have students progress through Programming 101 to Programming 102 and continue to Programming 201, thus individualizing the learning.
[Judy and Andy:] Frequently, when students who struggle in math find out that it is a Tynker day, they are noticeably relieved. We hear a sigh, see a smile, watch a fist pump in the air. Often, math can be anxiety producing for these children because they struggle with basic math concepts or have difficulty getting to the bottom of a word problem. But these same students are able to succeed at Tynker because they have the ability to sequence, create stories, and animate. Children who can “number crunch” in math find themselves seeking help from other students who ordinarily are not as strong in math. Tynker has evened out the playing field in math class, and all students learn that they have the potential to code.
One particular aspect of Tynker that I love is that I have seen girls come alive with excitement when they are coding. Our class watches inspirational videos on Code.org in which girls and women are featured, they see themselves as successful in the math and science realm, and they are quickly motivated to try all the Tynker courses. One particular girl in third grade, while working on a Tynker lesson, cried out, “I did it! I figured this out!” I like how Tynker has empowered all students in my third grade to learn how to code.
My favorite story about what students say about Tynker and coding is actually from the parent of a current fourth grader. She saw me in our carpool dismissal and she exclaimed, “How was coding today? Brack woke up telling me he is excited for the day because it is a Tynker day!” Other phrases that are common are, “Wow! Look at this?” “I made this happen!” The engagement level of students is palpable. Students are resilient, collaborative (“Teach me how you did that!”), creative, and they use critical thinking skills. They are planning and designing while they create their projects, asking themselves, “What do I want to create, and how will I code that?” Students have another outlet to express themselves creatively, integrating many skills in the process.
[Andy:] Computer science is, and is becoming more of, a major goal at Friends School of Baltimore. We are beginning the process of developing a K-12 curriculum, and Tynker will play a big role in that process. There are pockets of computer science taking place in our middle and upper school. There are upper school classes that combine interactive art and programming, social sustainability and entrepreneurship, and classes teaching Java. However, because lower school students are having varied and deeper experiences with computer science and coding using Tynker, we, as lower school educators, predict that there will be an organic push from students to challenge them further, that will be felt in our middle and upper schools.
[Judy and Andy]: This generation of students presents a unique challenge to educators: How can schools continue to engage and teach children who have access to so much knowledge at their fingertips? How can we join school programs and curriculum with student interests and passions when much of their learning is occurring outside the walls of the classroom? The answer is complicated, but for me it lies in the relationship among student agency, the teaching of coding, and the power of student voice and choice in their learning. Through Tynker, our children are developing skills that they currently are able to apply to other aspects of our curriculum. Through Tynker, our children are also learning the skills they will need for a future that we, even as their teachers and educators, cannot even predict.