Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, Belmar Elementary School (BES) started its first-ever computer science club, Coding Connects BES, which connected coding to mentoring. BES 4th-8th grade students attended a weekly coding club that focuses on their personal interests, including video game design, fashion and music. Once the students were ready to showcase their skills and knowledge to the younger students, they worked with me to plan a K-3 coding workshop. The 4th-8th grade coding mentors learned what it’s like to host an event by helping with participation sign ups, scheduling and selecting the activities for the kindergarten-third grade (K-3) students to complete.
Two key concepts for Ready to Code (RtC), sponsored by Google and ALA, are providing and creating inclusive learning environments and connecting youth interests and emphasizing youth voice. BES has achieved these goals by developing an afterschool program in which K-3 students have learned computer science and computational thinking (CS/CT) skills by partnering with older 4th-8th grade coding mentors.
More than 60 students from K-3 signed up to attend the coding workshop. Due to the overwhelming response, the one-day workshop quickly turned into three separate sessions with approximately twenty students at each one. Each 4th-8th grade mentor volunteered to be either a group leader or a station leader. Group leaders were responsible for making sure each member of their group stayed together, bringing them to the correct station at the appropriate time and assisting the students at each station with the activities. Station leaders introduced the mini-lesson to the students and assisted the children in completing the activity.
The K-3 children were able to attend four out of the six stations, each of which highlighted CS/CT skills (logical thinking, algorithm design, pattern recognition and decomposition) in a fun and engaging, plugged or unplugged mini-lesson. By designing their own binary and pattern bracelets, students learned pattern recognition; created algorithms competing in the Alex Toys Robot Races, playing ThinkFun Robot Turtles and using Scratch, Jr.; and learned the importance of logical thinking and decomposition using Alex Toys Future Coders Cube Stackers and designing video games with Bloxels.
After the success of the K-3 coding workshop, the coding mentors are eager to host another round of workshops, which will include new stations with Dot and Dash robots from Wonder Workshop, a coding read-aloud activity, and digital music creation using Makey Makey. Having the coding mentors research their own station ideas to showcase their passions has made the workshops more meaningful to both the students and the mentors.
When implementing a computer science program for primary grade level students, it is imperative to have a small teacher-to-student ratio. Due to the high number of coding mentors, all of the K-3 students were focused on the lessons and were able to get individual attention when needed. At least once a day I have both K-3 coders and coding mentors ask me when the next coding workshop is going to take place. This experience has proven the success of the RtC initiatives, and we look forward to continuing the mentoring program!
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