Monday, January 23, 2023

Beyond an Hour of Code #Coding #Education

There is feeling by teachers that teaching coding is not a valuable use of time in the classroom. As standardized tests ramp up in schools across the country, many teachers find it hard to fit coding into their curriculum beyond one houri n December. The biggest misunderstanding that seems to take place around coding is the belief that EdTech is trying to turn all students into coders. This could not be further from the truth. Here are some of the real reasons why teaching coding to students is valuable. 

1. Coding supports problem-solving skills - One of the biggest things I have encountered as I learned to code as an adult was how much I depended on my problem solving skills to figure out why something was not working in my code. Coding systems will spit out errors when your type the wrong thing in the wrong place. The coder needs to find out where the problem is, why it is a problem, and how to fix it. Working through a problem toward a solution is an important skill and students need help developing it. Watching students work through their code is always interesting because you can see the wheel turn as they go line by line. This takes me to the next good reason. 

2. Attention to detail - The answer to your coding problem is always in the details. I have seen students spend many minutes trying to debug their code, but will refuse to proofread their essay before submitting it to their teacher. Teaching students the value of taking their time, checking their code for errors, and making notes on anything that needs to be fixed are skills that translate to writing. ELA classroom teachers, which I was for over 15 years, have tried to get students to make proofreading a part of their writing process. It wasn't until after I left the ELA classroom that I found that coding is how I could encourage students to proofread. Proofreading skills improve with practice and proofreading code is a must if you want your code to work. 

3. They might become a coder - The goal of using coding is not to make every student into a professional coder for the rest of their life. However, there are some students who might never have considered coding as a career if they had not had a taste of what it is like in the classroom. Women and women of color and not represented across the coding world and if there is going to be a move toward more equity in this world, more opportunities need to be given to students to explore coding in fun and engaging ways. Bringing coding into the classroom can start the move to bring balance to the coding workforce. 

4. Basic Understanding of the world - Students will take biology, chemistry, physics, etc. and families and teachers generally do not think twice about this. We are not expecting all students to become biologist, chemists, or physicists. We want students to have a basic understanding of their world. Technology has become engrained into just about every facet of our lives. It is near impossible to go about your day without needing something that has been coded. Being able to look around and understand how things work and why they work the way they do can be helpful as you navigate your world. Asking students to explore coding to obtain this understanding is something that should no longer seem like a wild idea. 

These are just a few of the reasons why bringing coding into the classroom more than just an hour a year. Building in coding as part of the curriculum will bring positive results beyond just coding knowledge. Take the time to explore coding yourself and you will see how you use your own skillset to solve problems and create code. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Thursday, January 19, 2023

An Argument for Project-Based Learning #PBL #EdChat #Education

There are people that are still very wary of project-based learning. I understand that there are questions about why it is better than other pedagogical approaches. There are some educators that are afraid to try and add PBL to their classroom because their school/district is chained to standardized tests and the thought is that PBL doesn't prepare students for those types of assessments. I wanted to give a few reasons why PBL is worth exploring in your classroom. 

1. Active engagement - One of the things that is amazing about PBL is the fact that students are actively engaged in the process of learning. In a traditional model, students are passively receiving the information. When a student is actively engaged, they are more likely to retain the information. If standardized tests are a worry, PBL will allow students to retain more of the material covered in class. Another nice part of active engagement is the energy that comes to the classroom. There are few things better than a jumping classroom because students are actively exploring  a variety of interesting topics. 

2. Soft skill work - When students are working on their projects, they are also getting a chance to work on their soft skills. Communication, collaboration, time management, and other skills are important when working on complex projects. Students will work on these skills many times over during a year filled with projects. Again, the traditional classroom, format has everything structured for the student with very little need to work on the soft skills. A student can sit in the back of a traditional classroom all year without being actively engaged. Those soft skills are important for everyone to have as they mature and enter the workforce. 

3. Ownership - I used to tell students, "If you can't get excited for the project you chose, why on earth would you get excited about the one I choose?" When students choose their project, they have a sense of ownership of their work. They take more pride in it and they commit to the ins and outs of it. There are times when students need to jump through hoops and complete mandated work, but that is true for most people in their jobs. Doing the boring stuff is required so you can do the fun stuff. When the students get to choose what the fun project is going to be, they take full ownership of it and get to work. 

4. Class culture - Classroom culture is important in every school. Creating a community of learners is not easy task. I noticed how students all came together during their different projects. They supported one another and offered feedback and cheered each other one when it was time to present. Students were far more respectful of a student presentation because they know how hard they worked and they wanted the respect of the class when they presented. The bonds that are formed by group projects are an amazing thing to watch. Groups form and create amazing things together and I would hear them talk fondly about them years later. Those memories are connected to the content in a way traditional note-taking instruction could never accomplish. 

5. Differentiation - Our students are on an educational journey and they are all at different points on the trip. PBL allows for students to choose projects, set goals, and share their work in ways that meet their needs. Not all projects are going to look the same and that is a good thing. A classroom full of students will be filled with a variety of IEPs and 504s. As a teacher, crafting different assignments for each of those students every time one is needed can be too time consuming. Allowing more choice in their work with PBL lets the students adjust their work as needed. That way, all of the students will be able learn in a way that is best for them. Over time, I did not have to help those students tweak their projects because they learned what would push them to do their best.

These are just a few reasons why project-based learning is a great thing to bring into your classroom. There are so many other reasons! Check out my book on PBL in the classroom and feel free to reach out if you have questions or are interested in PD on this topic. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Thursday, January 12, 2023

4 Simple Ways to Support Neurodivergent Students in the Classroom #EdChat #SpEd

 There are many teachers out there that want to support the neurodivergent students in their classroom, but are unsure of where to start. It can feel overwhelming to think about the number of students who need the support, but there are a few things you can do to help them be successful in the classroom. 

1. Provide Accommodations

Some neurodivergent students have accommodations already in place and some students do not have any because they have slipped through the cracks of the system. There are many other reasons why the student might not have a set list of supports in place, but that doesn't mean you can't offer help. Find the support options that work best for these students. Some students might need an extra day to complete an assignment. Others will struggle to stay organized and need an extra hand at the end of the day. It can be overwhelming, but it is important to follow IEP and 504 documents for students who have set accommodations and to keep an eye out for students who could also benefit from support who are not identified in the system. 

2. Structure the Environment

One of the things that I have found that really helped my neurodivergent students was the way that I provided the assignments. I made sure everything was written on the board or on the website, I provided the directions verbally at least twice, and then I checked in with students who might need personal directions to help them get started. I make sure to get out in front of potential communication issues by making sure the assignment can be found anywhere a student might look. Also, I make sure to move about the room and redirect students as needed. 

3. Educate Yourself

Sometimes professional development offered by your school does not meet your needs or the needs of your students. It is important to find helpful resources to support your understanding of the changing pedagogical practices to support all students. Diving into Google and searching for specific content resources is one approach. There are many resources out there that provide information on supporting neurodiverse students. Here is one I found with a quick internet search. An article here and there can really help students in your classroom if you are committed to supporting students who do not conform to the typical student learning profile. 

4. Support Student Self-Advocacy 

This will be one of the toughest things to make happen in the classroom because not all students are in the same place in dealing with their own neurodiversity. Asking a student who deals with generalized anxiety to advocate for themself to the teacher is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take time and many, many, reminders. As the classroom teacher, it is our job, hopefully with the help of support staff and the family, to build up the capacity of the student to self-advocate. There are going to be plenty of instances where the student does not speak up about needing more time or extra help. The struggle will be very real for the student, but patience is key in helping them grow and develop the skills they need to be successful.

Supporting Neurodivergent students in the classroom is no small task. There are going to be days where you are too busy to provide that little extra nudge to get a student moving in the right direction. There will be days where it feels like a student requires all of your attention in class to stay on task. This is all very normal. I like to view the support of all students, but most especially neurodivergent students, as a marathon instead of a sprint. Much like the students, we will stumble in our efforts to support them, but we must get back up and try to make the next day better. 

Monday, January 9, 2023

Exploring Creativity In The Classroom #MakerEd #EdChat

This school year has been an important year for creativity for me and for my students. I really wanted to give them more ownership of the projects they would be creating. So far, I have seen some great examples of creative problem solving and increased engagement from my students. Here are just a few images of their work this year in the Makerspace. 

There are a few reasons I think you should explore allowing more creativity in your classroom based on what I have seen the past few years in my classes and classes of teachers who have focused on allowing more creativity in the classroom through MakerEd and Project Based Learning. 

1. Creativity supports the love of learning. It is so crucial that we get students to see learning as something that is valuable and to love doing it. You do that my letting learning look differently than the standard sit and get many classrooms have come to embrace. Sometimes students are going to need to sit and listen to information, but there are plenty of opportunities that should allow for students to explore and create. Those moments need to be embraced in the classroom because those are the memories that will be created that support a life-long love of learning. 

2. Bringing creativity into the classroom support critical thinking and problem solving skills. Students that dive into creative exploits often find their original creative idea might not work as imagined. This forces them to problem solve. I saw this with the clock assignment in my Innovation and Design class. Many students had wild ideas on creating clocks and were forced to explore their designs and solve problems when their sketched design was having trouble coming to life. The more students are tasked with exploring problems and creating solutions, the better they will be moving forward. Critical thinking and problem solving are muscles that need to be worked out in all classes from time to time. 

3. I have seen that creativity supports communication and collaboration. When it comes to creative projects, students have lots of ideas. When working in groups on creative projects, students will need to work on their communication skills as they explain their ideas and work on compromises. In the middle school, students are developing these important skills and creative projects are a great way to engage them to support these soft skills. Even if the students are not working on groups, having students work on creative projects gets them excited to share their work and get feedback. That back and forth over a project is also great for students as they learn to give and receive constructive feedback to support their peers. 

4. Creativity is great for boosting the confidence of students. So many students feel like what they are good at is not important in school. Givings students a chance to shine in different ways in the classroom can help boost their self-esteem. Giving students a chance to write a song, build something in Minecraft. paint a picture, or some other creative outlet instead of a worksheet or essay could be a great way to see what students know while giving them a platform to showcase their creativity. Over the years I have had students tell me my encouragement of their art, writing, singing, and other creative talents helped them feel seen in class as more than student in a desk. Those are the moments that remind me that the work outside of the curriculum is so vital. 

I could go on and on about the value of creativity in the classroom, but I will pause with these four reasons for now. If you are new to this idea, please do not be overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time with one lesson at a time. Bringing creativity into the classroom was something that took me time to get just right. You can do it at your pace and the students will forever be thankful for it. 

Hugs and High Fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Be Brave #EdChat


The new year will bring new challenges and this song is going to be one of my many anthems to help me be successful. For all of the educators out there that are feeling run down and are not sure what is next, sometimes, the only thing we can do is be brave, speak up, and do what is best. 

I encourage you to be brave and try that new project or switch some lessons around like you have always wanted. There is a chance you will fail and that is ok. Failure is part of being brave. I might not know you, but I believe in you. You can do it. Be brave. 

The best things in life are hard and being brave is the first step in making change. I hope all of you out there can make the changes you want for 2023 and know you are not alone. An entire community of educators are out there that will help if you are struggling. 

Sending you the biggest hugs and high fives!


The Nerdy Teacher