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Learning to Code to Build a Growth Mindset

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by Farrah Falco, Tech Specialist at STEM Magnet Academy, Chicago. 

By now, most teachers knows how important it is to teach Computer Science skills. The logic skills, creative problem solving abilities, and technology fluency will last a lifetime.

When students in Kindergarten through 8th grade learn Computer Science and coding skills, they also gain a growth mindset. That’s an important concept to learn early because, without a growth mindset, it would be almost impossible to learn to read, write, or even add. What interferes and stops most students along the learning pathway is not that they fundamentally cannot learn the concept; instead, it is the belief that they can’t do it and the freezing fear of failure.

Instilling a growth mindset in students has been shown to increase their willingness to persevere through challenges, leading to better learning outcomes. In a recent survey of teachers, 98% said, “all students can and should have a growth mindset.” And a further 97% agreed that, “Fostering a growth mindset in students is part of my job duties and responsibilities.” This is why, beginning in Kindergarten, on the first day of school, our students learn about having a growth mindset and how it’s not a failure to mess up.

It’s a key lesson I share over and over in Computer Science. When a student runs a line of code and it fails, it doesn’t mean that they failed. It means they found a way that didn’t work. That is not failure; it’s called learning. When the fear of failure is removed from the learning equation, amazing things can happen. Dreams are realized, discoveries are made, and lives are changed forever.

In our classes, we use Tynker to help our students learn to code. Not only is Tynker a deep and engaging (even fun) resource for kid-focused tech learning, it’s also a great way to reinforce the growth mindset and the process of learning. With Tynker, our students learn to be brave, to make mistakes, and to try.

To describe what happens, I have to use a word that doesn’t have an English translation: meraki. It’s modern Greek and it means to do something with passion, with absolute devotion, with undivided attention. No matter how difficult a task, it is done with all your effort, with enthusiasm, with eagerness, with complete love, with all your heart. Meraki is to put your soul into something, to put a little bit of yourself into it, be it singing, dancing, or, in this case, coding.

Tynker invites students to create and learn with meraki.

Students don’t code because they want a good grade or because it makes their teacher happy; they have an intrinsic drive to work on Tynker because it allows them to share a piece of themselves with the world, to see their ideas come to life, to let their voices be heard. And in the process, they foster a growth mindset by seeing for themselves that anything is possible when they throw themselves into it.

The passion my young students have for coding in my class and the self-directed student tutorials, puts learning in their hands. Sometimes all I have to do is stand next to them while they do it.  

When a student needs help on Tynker, I simply go over and ask them to specifically state their problem. Most of the time they already know the answer. Then I will tell them, “Be brave. I believe in you.” They try again, it works, and their little faces light up. “Thank you!” they’ll exclaim happily. I then say, “You figured it out on your own. I just stood here.” Sometimes students just call me over and say, “I just need you to stand here.” And I do. I stand beside them while they take a deep breath, shatter the wall, and come out victoriously on the other side. It’s an amazing teaching experience.

This typifies the growth mindset because students persevere and gain confidence in their own ability to problem-solve. And this attitude can spread.

I once saw a Kindergartner standing next to a new non-English speaking student who was hesitant, fearfully adding his last bit of code. As I moved closer, the new student hit “Run” and saw his program work. He looked up at the boy standing beside him and smiled. That’s when I saw it. The other student wasn’t just standing there. Our new student had faced his fears, summoned up his courage and the belief he could do it while his young classmate helped him the best way he knew how – by merely standing next to him, metaphorically holding his hand.

That’s when your heart fills all the way up because you just taught them something that will open new worlds and stay with them forever. That is what it feels like to teach Computer Science with Tynker. The best part is watching them learn to learn and persevere.

Yes, the hard lessons and hard skills of learning computer coding absolutely have value. And these skills are highly transferrable to other subjects. But when coding is taught right – in a way that empowers the students to find meraki and to try and fail on their own – the growth mindset they acquire is infinitely more valuable.

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