Ms. Chase knew Montana was adding Computer Science standards to their curriculum. She was motivated to find a program for her classroom that would meet the critical concepts of the standards. "If that’s coming down the pipeline, then I need to be on top of it," Ms. Chase explains.
"Coding is a combination of self-exploration in centers and guided lessons. I plan to continue to develop the program in my classroom. I truly hope to add to my skill set to allow me to continue to challenge and help the students grow," says Lynda Chase, a first grade teacher.
Ms. Chase first started using Kodable to introduce coding as a free play option when students were done with their work. Admitting she still wasn't really knowledgeable about coding then, but after seeing her students' engagement and hearing from parents during virtual learning how much kids loved it, she knew she needed to do more with teaching coding in her classroom the upcoming year.
For the following school year, students worked with Kodable in a group as well as individually. "Most of the time, I will introduce a new skill/challenge to the students as a whole group." Ms. Chase puts it on her projector, and as a class, they walk through the steps and learn the concept.
"When they are able to code at center time, they're able to conduct some self-exploration and build on the skills/techniques taught. They also collaborate with other students to solve a problem or a challenge that they may be having," Ms. Chase explains.
Ms. Chase filled out her coding plans with new robots purchased using grant funding and with printable worksheets from Teachers Pay Teachers. Students used paper pieces to lay out the code before applying it to their robots. It gave her a clear way to talk about the process and show how students' choices related to the robots moves.
"At first, [the students] were thinking [Kodable] was just a game, so they were getting through levels as fast as they possibly could." However, Ms. Chase explains that once levels started getting harder, students had to start thinking about whether or not a move was the best choice or if it would work.
She states there were moments of frustration when students expected specific solutions to work that then didn't. When this happened, she taught her students to try other solutions and think through the problem in ways they might not have tried the first time.
Those moments of frustration and problem solving also lead to students asking a classmate who had already been through the activity for help, allowing Ms. Chase to incorporate collaboration skills into her students' learning. She says collaboration is an ongoing conversation in her classroom. With students wanting to share their progress and solutions out of excitement, it was the opportune time for Ms. Chase to discuss how to collaborate and problem-solve with each other.
As her first year teaching coding, she knows she might not always know the answer, but that's nothing to be afraid of. "I've been teaching for a very long time, and this is very new to me... I jumped feet first in. I thought, 'you know what, the kids are never afraid.' To get started, I showed them the first couple of easy [levels], and I knew they would be able to take off better on their own than with me trying to show... They learn so much more by discovering on their own and with help from their peers," says Ms. Chase.
She teaches her students to use wording like "what do you think would work here?" or "what can you do?" when they help classmates. She talks about teaching students to ask questions to help other students get to the answer rather than showing them. This way, students can learn and be rewarded with finding the solution on their own.
After her first year of teaching coding, it is a staple in her classroom, just like math and reading.
When frustrations arise, or students get stuck on a problem, she makes sure to talk about how important it is to solve these problems. "A lot of kids want to give up right away. We talk a lot about ways they can deal with the situation. We'll stop and say, 'what else could have happened here or what else could you have done?'
"They learn so much more by discovering on their own and by their peers helping them. And so that's what it ended up being. They see who's really good at it, and they know those are their go-to people," she says.
Ms. Chase noted that her class had difficulty problem solving and collaborating after coming back from the COVID-19 shutdown. But, she explains, working with coding tools, they're so excited to share and discuss that working together to collaborate and use critical thinking to problem solve has come naturally and has improved all around.
"Coding is a combination of self-exploration in centers and guided lessons. I plan to continue to develop the program in my classroom. I truly hope to add to my skill set to allow me to continue to challenge and help the students grow. I would eventually like to see the program spread to the other first grade classrooms," says Ms. Chase.
Ms. Chase is a first grade teacher at Bitterroot Elementary in the Billings Public Schools District. This is her second year teaching at Bitterroot Elementary, but she has been with the district for 22 years. Altogether, Ms. Chase has been teaching for 29 years at various grade levels, from kindergarten to fifth grade.
She enjoys teaching at the first grade level because the students' excitement increases as their abilities to read and problem solve grow. She calls it "pure magic!" Throughout the years, she has always searched for programs and projects that will allow the students to grow in their confidence and learn skills that will benefit them in the future.
Eighteen first-graders filled Ms. Chase's classroom during the 2020-2021 school year. She was accepted to the district's TILT (Teachers Integrating and Learning Technology) program to learn more about integrating technology in her classroom. This was the first year Ms. Chase integrated coding fully into her classroom. The class had difficulty problem solving and collaborating after coming back from the COVID-19 shutdown, and Ms. Chase says coding helped them develop problem-solving and collaboration skills.
Bitterroot Elementary is located in Billings, Montana, and serves K-5th grade students. The Title 1 school has ~340 kids and is considered one of Montana's most culturally diverse schools. With 22 elementary schools throughout the district, Bitterroot Elementary "values relationships that encourage students to be respectful, motivated, and responsible learners."
Bitterroot is proud to provide all students with 1:1 devices. K-1st grade students have iPad access, and 2nd-5th graders use Chromebooks. Bitterroot Elementary does not focus on STEM or coding specifically within the district; however, some teachers incorporate technology and coding into their classrooms.