None of the high school or elementary students noticed me when I slipped into their after-school classroom last fall. The room buzzed with happy energy as the older students crouched at computers, coaching their younger peers on using Scratch to create animated games.
This after-school Coding Club was the first of its kind for my organization, Ann Arbor Public Schools Community Education and Recreation (“Rec & Ed”). We have a decades-long history of providing after-school programs in our schools, typically through partnering with local organizations or by hiring staff.
Last fall, we decided to change that. Working with one our high school’s AP Computer Science teachers, we developed a 6-week after school Coding Club that supported high school students as coding instructors for 3rd-5th-grade students. The teacher wrote the curriculum, with input from the students. The objectives were for elementary students to learn the basics of computer coding and for high school students to learn to be instructors and mentors. The high school students had an adult “supervisor” in the room but taught each lesson independently.
What made the high school students amazing as instructors and facilitators?
1. A close connection to elementary students’ contexts
High school students often knew the language, pop culture references, and games that elementary students use and love. Many times, the older students were able to connect through their own memories of certain games and songs from their elementary years.
2. An ability to celebrate every victory with authentic enthusiasm
I gave up counting the number of times I saw a high school student fist bump or high five one of the elementary students. They truly felt that the younger student’s victory was theirs as well.
3. Not accepting failure
Elementary students frequently hit snags in their programming. The high school student would not let them give up, patiently explaining the step they needed to do, and providing lots of encouragement. On the last day, some elementary students hadn’t quite finished their games. The high school students encouraged them to talk about what the end result would look like.
By the end of the six weeks, both the high school students and the elementary students had grown tremendously. Elementary students learned core concepts such as sequence, selection, and iteration in a personally meaningful and motivating context. The high school students honed organizational and teaching skills. One commented that “I started without any knowledge of how to teach, and now I feel I can do it.”
The decision to offer Coding Club again was a no-brainer – the synergy of high school students’ knowledge and enthusiasm for coding and younger children’s eagerness to learn from these mentors was invaluable. Two more elementary schools in our district will enjoy Coding Club this spring.
For breakfast this morning, I had a breakfast burrito and a large coffee.