Preparing Boys for Life.
Learning to code in Lower School
Michelle Burns, Lower School Librarian

Lower School Librarian Michelle Burns was recently recognized with a CARE Award by BSD Education. According to the BSD Education website: "Each year, BSD Education partners with teachers around the world to bring technology programs into their classrooms. CARE Award nominees represent a diverse group of teachers. Each exemplifies one or more of BSD's four foundational characteristics: curious, adaptable, resilient, and empathetic." 

We sat down with Ms. Burns recently to discuss how she incorporates BSD's coding curriculum in her lessons, what skills she hopes to impart on her students, and more.

1. Tell me about the ongoing partnership between Haverford and BSD Education.

We have a really good partnership. Third through fifth graders at Haverford learn coding in a special class; BSD provides great scaffolding for me to build on, as well as ways to share information and collaborate on projects with other educators. BSD helps provide the curriculum that includes coding projects, but they also give me the freedom to build on their curriculum from a variety of resources to broaden the scope and break down information into manageable bits.

Teachers and principals who use BSD collaborate regularly to ensure we’re learning from each other and elevating the experience for our students. I share how I set up activities, break them down for kids, what they look like in Seesaw, Google Slides, YouTube videos I make, and the great things students make with BSD programs. We help each other do better, and that’s exactly the kind of partnership model I think works best.  

2. What kind of coding projects have the Lower Schoolers taken on?

The students are learning HTML, CSS, and Javascript. This is a new vocabulary – essentially a new language – so it's going to take some time. During Virtual Haverford this spring, I shared videos and slideshows with them to provide asynchronous learning experiences. They completed projects on their own time, at their own pace.

In the beginning of this school year, I worked with homeroom teachers and we were able to co-teach lessons where the students created timelines on the history of communications. Students and teachers took it a step further by creating a timeline of someone in real life; students chose figures like Albert Einstein or Barack Obama. This spring, we built on these skills to create online posters for research topics such as the Egyptian pyramids. Some of their favorite projects have been combining their research with coding. For example, I asked them to create a "social media profile" with friends, interests, and a location for a book character. They created ones for Bilbo Baggins and Sherlock Holmes. They experimented with inserting custom headers, changing colors, and inserting photos and videos.

I asked them to create a "social media profile" with friends, interests, and a location for a book character. They created ones for Bilbo Baggins and Sherlock Holmes. They experimented with inserting custom headers, changing colors, and inserting photos and videos.

For the last two weeks of school, we began working with a "Character Builder" program within Javascript where students would write 3 different characteristics about their character for a person to guess their character by playing the game. It was fun to show them how clicking on the Javascript button would allow their written characteristics to appear randomly each time.  I wanted to add an additional question to BSD's program  “Who is my character?” and have an image appear for more fun. I learned how to do that and had BSD help with one piece of the code I got wrong. Great teamwork! BSD Education also wrote a custom program with voice commands at a student’s request. We could "talk" to our computers and play with different commands. For example, if we said "Hello," the word “Hi” would appear on the screen.  That was a great way to end the year with a student-created project!

I try to show the boys how to be independent learners and to problem-solve on their own. I want them to know they can rely on themselves and figure out things they've never done before.

3. What kind of skills do you want students to have when they complete classes with you?

The boys are learning real programming that professionals use every day. I hope this class helps students see how applicable computational thinking is to all different kinds of classwork and future career fields. I try to show the boys how to be independent learners and to problem-solve on their own. I want them to know they can rely on themselves and figure out things they've never done before. Seeing their proud faces when they discover they can do it is a wonderful thing to witness. I want them to take ownership of what they're learning, which is why I'm so willing to let them experiment with their websites and projects. Encouraging students to be a group of independent, resilient, strong thinkers is always my hope.

 

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