Metacognition and Computer Science

We’ve all been there. I was standing in front of my 30 fourth graders, modeling a multi-step equation involving fractions and decimals. Talking through the problem, I didn’t even catch myself misplacing my decimal point in the solution. “A kid mistake,” as one of my students pointed out.

A “kid mistake” or a learning opportunity? Talk about a teachable moment! Thinking about our thought process, formally known as metacognition, is not just a math, reading, or computer science skill- it’s a life skill.

How does computer science activate metacognition?

  • Thinking critically. In computer science, there are so many ways to solve problems, execute an idea, or complete a task. Like math, multiple paths can get us to the same answer and everyone may solve the same problem a little differently. Exercising metacognition allows students to think about different ways to solve a problem and choose the best possible solution.
  • Problem-solving mindset. Overcoming failure leads to success in computer science. You fail and you fail often. Having a problem-solving mindset allows you to get to the best path forward and overcome failures.
  • Debugging:  “Did I make a mistake?” “What was my plan?” “Where is the mistake and how did it happen?” “What can I do next?”
  • Comprehension: Think reading comprehension! Teaching computer science concepts off-screen allows students to think about what concepts and skills are being applied as they work in coding apps or games. Always encourage students to think about what skills to use, what potential next moves could be, and to self-monitor their process as they go; just as they would when reading.

Four ways to encourage Metacognition through Computer Science

  1. Ask questions. Whether you know anything about computer science or not (you’ll learn a lot by doing this), you can still ask your students questions while they’re on coding apps and prompt them to think about their thought process. This isn’t any different from how you would develop reading comprehension, by the way!
  • “What problem are you trying to solve?”
  • “What are your options?”
  • “How will you decide what the best solution is?”
  • “What is your next move?”
  • “How will you fix your mistakes?”
  • “What are you making?” “How will you do that?”

Follow-up Questions:

  • “Tell more more about that.”
  • “How is your idea different than your peers’?”
  • “How did you decide that was the best option?”
  • “Have you considered ___?”
  1. Organize and facilitate classroom discussions. Giving students a space to talk about their thinking allows them to think deeper about their thought process and put it into words- taking metacognition a step farther. You don’t have to be a computer science expert to set the stage for students to talk about their ideas and strategies. Head here for some great classroom discussion activities that require minimum planning and are easily transferable to STEM.
  2. Give students choice and ownership (across content areas). When students are invested and responsible for what they’re doing, they are more likely to be intentional about their work. Mindlessly breezing through coding apps or programs is far less of an issue when students are curious and want to engage with their work- commence debugging!
  3. Model it! Talk through your thought processes, what you’re thinking as you’re doing a read aloud, and capitalize on your own mistakes. Find (or make) opportunities where you can audibly go back through your thought process and correct mistakes. This will benefit students in a few ways: they’ll see a real life example of metacognition, they’ll remember it and try it on their own, and they’ll realize everyone makes mistakes and can correct or catch them by thinking about their thought process as they go.

Opportunities are endless to model thinking strategies for students across academic standards and real-life situations. Not being afraid to take a leap with computer science and trusting your own strategies for developing students in other areas is key, and that is certainly something worth thinking about.

Teacher of the Week: Kaye Rueschhoff

Inspired by parents who were teachers, 21 year teaching veteran Kaye Rueschhoff has worked relentlessly to bring herself up to speed in the constantly evolving digital world. Kaye recently shared with us some amazing ways she’s integrating coding across content areas, and this week we are honored to feature her as our Teacher of the Week!  Kaye TOW

Congratulations on being chosen as teacher of the week! Can you start off by telling us a little about your teaching background and how technology has worked its way into what you do?

I am the daughter of retired teachers so education has been a huge part of my life.  I grew up in a small Missouri town where the school was the center of our world.  When I went away to college, teaching was not my first career choice.  However, after many detours and 20 years later, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Technology has been an evolution for me. Our district became a “bring your own device” school a few years ago and I decided to learn everything I could about the devices and the technology in the world to support them.  I wanted my students to have the most cutting edge information and curriculum support possible, which meant that I had to learn everything I could and very quickly. I have attended every workshop, conference, and professional development opportunity possible in order to make that happen.

 What do you love most about teaching?

I have spent most of my teaching career as a first grade educator.  I love the evolution that happens with 6 and 7 year old children as they learn to read and experience many new things and topics for the first time. The challenge of finding the best way to teach and reach each individual student is one I take very seriously.  I love learning how they learn and then adapting my teaching style in order to ensure their success.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn how to code and develop 21st century technology skills?

Coding and computer skills is the world of these students, especially first graders.  They don’t know a world without these devices.  It is very important for them to know how the devices work in order to problem solve how to fix errors and navigate situations when the software or device does not work correctly. Many of the careers and future opportunities for current students have not even been invented yet, but coding and computer science skills will always be an asset for these children.kaye TOW kids

What is one of the most exciting things you have seen happen with coding in your classroom?

I have students in my class this year that have parents that don’t speak English at home.  These students struggle with every other subject in school and often feel defeated.  They are smart kids that just don’t get the practice in English needed to keep up with their peers. Coding is something that they are successful with.  They are the leaders and helpers during our computer science time and anytime we are using technology.  This is a universal language that builds self-esteem for these kids and helps them learn in all of the other subject areas.

What are some challenges you have had implementing coding in your school?

My administration supports this type of learning as long as I integrate it with other subject areas and show learning growth.

What is one coding goal you have as an instructor?

I would like to learn to code on my own.  I have started several coding classes, but it requires much more time than I can give.  When I was able to take classes, however, I was a better teacher because it helped me understand some of the foundation behind the coding programs and the language used. For my career, my dream would be to be part of a computer science school in our school district.

We have to ask: How do you make time to take care of yourself during the school year?

When I am not at school, I am usually in the gym.

What do you think is the most important thing for kids to take away from their education?KAYE TOW kid

I want these students to never stop learning. I want them to realize that boredom is a choice and there is always something new to discover.  Even though we can find out most everything we need to know on the internet, there is always something to be gained from human interaction and discussion.  Ideas are powerful and should be used to good.

Lastly, what do you like to do for fun outside of teaching?

I love to learn about technology and new gadgets. I LOVE sports and watch football, hockey, and baseball. I am in the gym or Zumba class daily.  Shopping is my sport.

Teacher of the Week: Melika Panneri

Our Teacher of the Week caught our eye in a news feature on the amazing work that she’s doing for The Wilson School. We were lucky enough to catch up with Melika Panneri and learn more about how she took coding from a 6th grade capstone project and built a technology program that prepares younger students for complex projects in later grades.  MELIKA_3-1

What do you love most about teaching?

I love that every day is a new day and there’s always something new to learn. Kids say what they think and that’s refreshing. I love seeing kids figure things out on their own and apply it to life.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn how to code and develop 21st century technology skills?

Coding is about challenges and problems and asks for kids to deal with it- it’s not just math and science. Kids grow their tolerance for frustration when they hit a wall and can’t figure something out.  Jobs will eventually need a background in computer science, whether you’re a programmer or not, and exposing kids to coding prepares them for that.

What is one of the most exciting things you have seen happen with coding at your school?

I started Think Camp this summer and I ran a session on creative coding. I  have never seen kids that excited in my life. We used a variety of coding options and tools, but the entire time kids were excited beyond anything I’ve ever seen. I think if they could have exploded, they would have! IMG_0481

What are some challenges you have had implementing coding in your school?

Getting other teachers to see the value in it is always challenging and talking about it is not enough. Once people see students learning it and watch me teach they start to understand and want to be a part of it. I have an ELA teacher who works with me to integrate ELA with coding. We did a coding project with 5th graders on explaining idioms to the world. An example was the idiom, “you crack me up.” A student created this scence, with an egg cracking and laughing, and he coded every bit himself. It’s a challenge showing that coding is not just science or math.

What is one coding goal you have as an instructor?

I’d like to get into more complicated possibilities for 5th and 6th graders. I learn a little bit more every year, and if I keep l learning I’ll be able to help kids dive deeper. I started them in 2nd grade and now they’re coming in with projects they’ve made over the weekend, things they have built over the summer. They want more and I want to be able to teach them and learn from them.

We have to ask: How do you make time to take care of yourself during the school year?

I’ve learned to get a little better at saying no when I’ve hit my limits.

What do you think is the most important thing for kids to take away from their education?

To have the opportunity to have that crazy joyful moment where they’ve figured out what works best for them to learn. Learning how to learn, and being excited about learning.

Lastly, what do you like to do for fun outside of teaching? montavalo

I love to travel when we have the time. My final student teaching was in Australia, and that was incredible. We like to go to New York City and San Francisco when we can.  I also love graphic design and real estate.

Thank you, Melika, for sharing your experiences and perspective with us!

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McKinna Elementary: Anne Jenks and Letty Batista

This week’s feature is an example of how collaboration and teamwork can set the tone for innovation and success. We are honored to introduce you to Principal Anne Jenks and Kindergarten teacher Letty Batista, both of McKinna Elementary in Oxnard, California.

Can you tell us about your path to becoming a school leader? anne jenks tow

Anne: I’ve been in education for about 22 years; I taught for 13 before becoming an administrator.  Teaching was a second career for me, I never dreamed of being a teacher until I started tutoring a 15 year old boy through Project Literacy. I went back to school while working full time, and got a teaching job mmediately. From there, I went back for my  Masters and became an administrator. I came to McKinna in July of 2007.

How did you begin to integrate technology into the work you’re doing at McKinna?

Anne: We started doing weekly raffles for students who were following school expectations- I had a 6th grade girl win an iPod, and she didn’t know what it was or what to do with it. I knew we had to start integrating more technology for our students. We started with the Hour of Code and not everyone could see the value of it right away. I met with teachers and told them, “I’m asking you to do this for one week, as little as 20 minutes a day.” When they did it, they saw the engagement, the resilience in students, and they were on board.

How did McKinna go from the Hour of Code to teaching coding daily? Letty TOW

Letty: Ms. Jenks came to me and told me the Hour of Code was coming up. She gave me the iPads and said, “I’m asking you to do 1 hour of coding with the Hour of Code.” I immediately saw fascination in my students, the kind of joy that we try  so hard to teach kids. It completely blew me away. After that, I asked Ms. Jenks if I could continue to teach coding and use Kodable with my class. I teach a bilingual class, and many of my students speak indigenous languages— we have so many standards to cover and so little time. I asked Ms. Jenks if I could adjust my schedule by shifting my calendar time to later in the day and she was supportive. The schedule shift allowed me to start getting coding time in daily.

How did you develop your instruction off-screen as you began teaching coding beyond the hour of code?

Letty: We were just getting started and learning together in the first year. The next year, I signed myself up for an Hour of Code workshop and I started teaching coding with unplugged activities. I needed to start on the right path to help them understand coding and how we can use it for math, reading, writing, storytelling, playing with blocks, etc. I started teaching coding with a curriculum and immediately noticed that children started practicing communicating in English naturally. Coding helps develop ESL students’ verbal skills and has improved students’ confidence.

What are you coding goals for the school?

Anne: I would like everyone to agree to 1 hour of coding a week, but I understand the time crunch that exists. I feel that coding is something that teaches “soft skills”- resilience, collaboration, the skills that are embedded in the Common Core. These make the learning more exciting and more relevant. Coding spills over into all of the subject areas and that is the value in it.

How are teachers supported as they get started with teaching programming?

Letty: Ms. Jenks and I present a lot for staff,  and there’s a lot of communication around what we’re doing. All of our kindergarten teachers kind of set the pace for everyone else. Our first graders come in already knowing so much, the first grade teachers have their gamefaces on and are ready when their new students come in. We have an after school coding club and we are hoping to start doing monthly events with students and families, especially in the upper grades.

What advice do you have for schools wanting to get started with coding?

Anne: You should begin with the Hour of Code in December, it’s a  great starting place to introduce teachers to coding. Teacher buy-in is absolutely vital. With everyone trying to wrap their head around the Common Core, asking for one week of something new seems doable. It’s one hour, there are options. The Hour of Code is a great starting point. kodable kids

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