Playing in the Coding Playground

by Janet Patton @patjanmarie | 10/30/2018

As a K-2 multiple subject teacher located in southern California, Janet Patton is a 25-year teaching veteran. During this time, she has dedicated herself to instilling innovation and creativity in her students. Janet is a National Board Early Childhood Generalist that embraces integrating math, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).

My kindergarten students are a diverse group of children that desire a hands-on visual approach to learning. They thrive when they can see, touch, and enjoy new learning experiences. This enthusiasm for learning is contagious. I want to keep their joy for learning alive. To do that, I too, must continue to learn and grow.

Young students in Mrs. Patton's classroom

That is why I opened up a DonorsChoose project to secure donations and matching funds to attend a 5-day free course in Computer Science professional development at Pathfinders Summer Institute. This was hosted by Infosys Foundation USA on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, Indiana.

I attended the Coding as a Playground session which worked primarily with K-2 teachers. We learned the importance of integrating computer science, computational thinking, coding, and robotics using developmentally appropriate techniques. This playground approach to teaching enhances collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Amanda Strawhacker and Madhu Govind from Tufts University facilitated our learning experiences. It was a week of hands-on programming, coding as a literacy, and networking. When I left, I gained a wealth of knowledge, a cornucopia of new partners, and a stronger desire to make a positive change at my school site.

Playing in the Coding Playground

My school community consists of hardworking, dedicated educators and families. Our families are not able to donate extra time or funds to enhance the school experience. Over 75% of our students receive reduce or free lunch. The majority of our funds are used to sustain traditional learning programs. We all desire a rigorous, effective education for our children but the reality is our current program teaches the basics. We have mastered teaching reading, writing, and math separately and in a very adult centered environment.

Playing in the Coding Playground

The week at Pathfinders transformed my mindset on how to educate young learners. I spent time studying the work that Marina Bers has done with children aged 4 to 7. Through her research, I have discovered how young children can engage in computational thinking and can be taught to become computer programmers, a process that can increase both their cognitive and social-emotional skills.

For the 2018-19 school year, I am now leading my students in numerous coding opportunities with plans to expand my program throughout my school site and district. My kindergarten students are beginning to use Scratch Jr. and are playing many unplugged coding games with tremendous success.

My future plans include hosting a Family Coding Night to share the rationale and importance of this work. In addition to exposing my students’ parents to this work, in January 2019, I will begin an after school coding and robotics club for all parents, children, and primary teachers at my school site. The goal is to develop a kindergarten coding and robotics program that can be replicated throughout our district.

I appreciate the opportunity that the partnership of DonorsChoose.org and Infosys Foundation USA created to transform my teaching. I wholeheartedly recommend this program to all educators. I am inspired to expose these precious young minds with a fascination that they will never forget. The children will learn to do more than build robots. They will learn to collaborate, share ideas, listen respectfully, solve problems, and believe in themselves.