Last November, I launched an after-school coding club at one of our elementary schools using materials from Wolfram Programming Lab. A few months later, I began to work with students from a local junior high school.
In the beginning, I decided to try a few simple activities, including finding a local time, Geo Position, and modifying a text. These helped me gauge student interest and participation. Surprisingly, the elementary school students were more engaged than the middle school pupils.
I was happily surprised to see the students quickly picked up the ideas and were ready for more complicated activities than I originally thought.
Based on these results, I planned our future coding adventures. After just a couple of meetings, I was happily surprised to see the students quickly picked up the ideas and were ready for more complicated activities than I originally thought.
In the last few months, we have completed most of the Wolfram Programming Lab lessons. I included more questions to give students additional experience and understand their assigned activities.
Since the club members range from third to eighth grade, it was understandable for some students to complete their assignments faster than others. I found some students skipped steps to be on the same exercise as their peers.
My solution for this problem was to write the activity on a piece of paper and, instead of having students log in to Programing Lab and work directly, they had to retype each lesson and line of code in the Notebook. This way, they could not skip any more lines and learned proper language syntax.
As we moved forward, although the main goal of the club was to introduce students to programming in a fun way, I wanted to assess their learning. I gave them an exercise with mistakes in the code.
Results were amazing! The students did well and enjoyed trying to find the errors, whether by working together or on their own.
In our recent meetings, we tried a few activities posted on Wolfram Community site, including Making a Weather Dashboard. With some of these exercises, we reached the same outcome as the authors. With others, we made a few mistakes, which we then had to find and correct, but the process of finding and fixing errors was much more engaging for students than just typing the code itself.
I like working with Wolfram because it is a real programming language, not a block language. In my opinion, using block-structured programming languages gives kids the wrong idea about coding. Don’t get me wrong; I am not against block structured exercises. For example, by dragging and dropping, students improve their ability to follow directions.
I like working with Wolfram because it is a real programming language, not a block language.
However, I feel like something is missing in block language: logical thinking. Students have most of the program designed in advanced. Whereas, with Wolfram, students are exposed to actual programing that plays a key role in developing logic skills.
My future plans for the club are to keep exploring new activities. I would like to show kids how to apply the knowledge they gather from our exercises to real world projects. Using Wolfram to control Arduino is one example of a great way to do that.
Through our experiences, we have found coding is easy and fun. I hope my post will inspire you in your own journey with programming. Please reach out to me with any questions!
About the blogger:
Elena Ivanova works as a Technology Support Specialist for East Maine School District 63 in Des Plaines, Ill. Although she has been in IT for several years, her interests are not limited within the technology field. Elena is also passionate about international relations, history, and politics. She holds an engineering degree from University of Mining and Geology in Bulgaria and a degree in international relations from Roosevelt University in Chicago. This broad range of knowledge serves Elena well in diverse environments such as a school district.
Elena has been working with students for few years sponsoring after school tech clubs, where she works to prove that programming and technology is not as hard to understand as some may think.