Parents, have you considered starting a coding club in your community? In this interview with Mark Barrett, you’ll learn how how caring parents got a coding club started at their daughter’s school, to start bringing computer programming to more students in New York’s Homer Central School District.
How did you get the coding club started at your school?
As a professional who in the past has sold web-delivered educational software, I see first hand the benefits of understanding how to write code. Computer programming is an important part of the foundation that kids need to be successful and I believe that all students need to graduate from high school having learned at least one programming language. In the early grades, we need to teach kids the thinking skills they will need to successfully learn that language.
After researching Tynker with my wife, who is a reading teacher at our local intermediate school, I spoke to the Director of Instruction and Evaluation for the district as well as to our Chief Information Technology Officer about ways to bring coding to our intermediate school (grades 3-5). They agreed to allow us to “beta” test an after-school program with 10 students, ages 8-10. Children are using the school’s Chromebooks in the library where the club meets each week.
How did you decide to use Tynker?
We did substantial research, tried several free and paid solutions with my 4th grade daughter, and decided that Tynker’s visual coding blocks and curriculum were superior. Other resources didn’t provide a set curriculum or the curriculum was not age appropriate or engaging, requiring a teacher to adapt material to meet the needs of our students. Having to do this would have made it harder for the school to implement, so we selected a platform that we felt the school could easily expand and offer to more students if the “beta” test was successful. The decision became easy when I saw how engaged my daughter was when she tried Tynker at home.
As a working parent and “volunteer”, how are you able to run the class?
The club meets once a week from 5:30-6:30pm. Parents are willing to bring their kids back to school for the club, because they see the value it is giving their children. We encourage parents to attend as well, and the ones who have are consistently amazed at how quickly the students pick up on the lessons.
We begin each meeting with an overview using a projector to display Tynker onto the screen, which helps the children understand what they will be learning. The kids then start working on the lesson, and we walk around to help students who need assistance. I believe in “ask 3 before me,” to encourage kids to learn from and help each other because it fosters collaboration. Sometimes we will ask students who have figured things out more quickly to demonstrate their solutions to the rest of the class using the projector.
We have been pleasantly surprised that the club has inspired such a high level of interest from parents. I share the list of concepts each student has learned and mastered with each parent. I point out that the kids are learning key math concepts and show how lessons are aligned to support Common Core standards (I use the chart on the website to do this). After viewing their child’s projects using our showcase URL, and by observing the class, they have seen for themselves how highly engaged their kids are.
Tynker’s level of support has been amazing. We have been really happy with the response time to any questions that have come up.
Tynker has made the club successful because the content is age appropriate and the students are extremely engaged – they want to be there. Once we had to cancel the meeting and they were very disappointed!
The club has been meeting now for over three months, and we are discussing expanding the program to include more lessons and more students. Currently, the Director of Instruction and Evaluation, along with the district’s Chief Information and Technology Officer, are evaluating our expansion and broader use of Tynker at our school. An important consideration to note is how we would accommodate different levels of students in the same class, since we will be bringing in new students without coding experience. We’re glad that Tynker’s curriculum will help us address this concern.
It is my hope that many more students in our school district will have access to Tynker and be able to learn programming – and soon!