Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Coding My Growth Mindset: A Self Reflection

“I want to teach females how to code, in hopes that they will pursue a career in computer science, or at least not feel limited as a girl like I did and still do sometimes. I want these girls to understand the importance of coding in today’s society. I want them to feel ownership in the club, and realize they have a voice. And as a member of this club, I want to learn how to code!”

After taking on the leadership of a “Girls Only Coding Club” at North Elementary, I was kind of smacked in the face with the reality that in order to reach my goal for the club, as stated in my first blog, I needed to learn more about algorithms, bugs, you name it. More important than realizing my lack of knowledge though was recognizing that I wanted to learn more! Many educators are familiar with the research of Carol Dweck and the “Growth Mindset” model. As teachers, we know the importance of instilling a “yes you can!” attitude in the students we teach, interact with, and influence every day. But over the course of the last few months, I have realized just how important it has been for me to nourish and develop my own Growth Mindset.

Two Mindsets: Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. Graphic by Nigel Holmes

Did I Just Feel My Brain Grow?

Determined to learn more about coding, I registered and attended a free workshop hosted by code.org. My experience at the workshop turned out to be just what I needed to fuel my growth mindset. My previous efforts with the “Cool Coders” Girls Coding Club were confirmed. I was on the right track. And the CS Fundamentals curriculum clearly mapped out sequences of lessons that could easily be adapted and integrated into our existing academic curricula. I left the training feeling motivated & empowered.

Following the Code.org workshop, I met with my principal to debrief and begin discussing the upcoming Hour of Code. This year I knew I wanted to go Beyond an Hour of Code. The resources provided to me via code.org and CS Fundamentals were exactly the tools I needed to make this happen. Natalie Webb, my administrator, agreed to my plan. Each classroom, kindergarten through 5th grade, would schedule a time to experience one of the unplugged lessons with me.

I specifically chose to go the “unplugged” non-computer route with our Hour of Code implementation for a few reasons. One, I knew logging the younger students on to Chromebooks could potentially eat time up, especially for those few classrooms where teachers still do not sense the importance of teaching their students this basic skill. Second, I doubted helping students complete the Hour of Code computer based activities would be as worthwhile as the unplugged lessons. Teachers were giving up instructional time to come and complete these lessons with me. The unplugged lessons offered opportunities for interaction and collaboration between and among the students and myself. Third, I wanted to learn more about the unplugged lessons and see first hand the connections that could be made to our existing curricula. As Dr. Dweck might say, I was recognizing and acting on the potential for my brain to grow. While I must admit I was afraid of failure, I was also challenged by the idea that my efforts could enhance student and teacher understanding of coding concepts, not to mention my own.

According to Dr. Dweck’s research, people’s theories about their own intelligence had a significant impact on their motivation, effort, and approach to challenges.

The Growth Mindset – What is Growth Mindset – Mindset Works

The Power of Frustration

To help get the students amped up for our Hour of Code, the Cool Coders recorded the school morning messages for the first week of December. Worrying about how we were going to fill 5 days worth of morning messages about coding, I began researching how coding can impact Growth Mindset. Having a Growth Mindset is philosophy we try and instill in all of our students at North, so I thought if I could make some good connections, it would make our messages even more powerful.

A Growth Mindset bulletin boards greets students at the entrance to North Elementary

And thus, in doing my research I came across this quote:

“When you are frustrated, you are getting ready to learn something new.”

What? Why has no one ever told me that before? I am close to 40 years old. Or maybe a better question I should ask is why have I not figured this out before? I am seriously considering putting this phrase on a t-shirt. It might have more impact for some of us than a “Keep Calm” variety, though it is not nearly as catchy!

All kidding aside, this particular statement has stuck with me since the moment I read it. And thinking back to my first experience with the Cool Coders, I can clearly see that yes, this is true. Now it has sort of become my personal mantra, no matter what the task is that’s causing me to want to pull my hair out. More importantly though, after sharing this concept with our Cool Coders as part of a morning message skit, I have witnessed them telling each other this same truth. They have learned the power of this statement, on their own, and in turn, are reassuring one another when faced with something they can’t quite figure out at the time.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Repeating my new mantra came in handy when planning for and implementing coding lessons with our littlest learners, kindergarten and 1st grade. A few years ago, these were my favorite kiddos to teach. Back then I taught reading which was a comfortable area for me to teach. Now I was being faced with the idea of teaching five and six-year-olds coding, an area that I myself am not that comfortable with. I didn’t want to teach these kids the coding lessons. I was scared and intimidated and unsure, despite having my own 6-year-old at home. However, deep down I knew they could do it, and I knew I could do it. It just might not be perfect each time.

1st graders work on “Cracking the Gingerbread Code”

Out of 9 lessons taught, I don’t think any two went exactly the same. Cautious of my implementation of the lessons, I continued to make modifications for each group in an effort to improve my strategies for engaging these little learners at their variable learning stages. Thankfully each teacher I worked with at this grade level was reassuring and helpful by offering feedback or suggestions. Also, I should add that teaching this age group during the weeks before Christmas break was a challenge all in itself! Thankfully, I came across a Twitter post promoting a blog by Brooke Brown, Coding for Little Kids that provided me with some unplugged resources with the perfect winter theme. Her website Teach Outside the Box is definitely resource you want to bookmark if you are a primary teacher!

Everyone has a Fixed Mindset Some of the Time

Teaching with 26 teachers and their classes over the course of a month certainly gave me the opportunity to witness the truth in this statement from Carol Dweck, herself. Many teachers approached our lesson telling me upfront that they knew nothing about coding. I reassured them and reminded them that I didn’t know much about coding either. While none of the teachers outright said they were refusing to learn something new, a few teachers did attempt to give off pretty direct clues, both non-verbal and a few verbal, that they were not interested in helping out. One even blatantly asked me why she needed to be there. I didn’t spend too much time on my explanation because I knew this teacher had other things on her mind and my answer was not going to change her thinking. Hopefully, the lesson might change her mind, but I promised myself I was not going to let her “walnut” attitude impact mine. Not sure what I mean by a walnut — I highly recommend you check out Jennifer Gonzalez blog “Find Your Marigold, The One Essential Rule for New Teachers”.

Going in, I knew that not all of the teachers were going to buy into the coding lessons 100% — but by the end of the lessons, these teachers were participating, and I do think that all of them learned at least one thing and maybe had a little bit of fun too! A few of the more reluctant teachers then thanked me, telling me the lesson was fun or cute. Maybe it was just not their time, and I get it. The worst part of having to try and do or learn something is when you are told to do it and do not yet see the value in it. We’ve all been there! I get it and I think it’s important to recognize that we all go through these stages.

Other teachers asked when I was teaming with them again to do some additional lessons. One colleague even brought in some coding books she had ordered from Scholastic for her classroom library. These teachers are happily growing, as marigolds do, and I am excited to plant myself among them as we learn together!

Find Your Marigold: The One Essential Rule for New Teachers

A Long December

December was a long month for me, however, now that all 26 “unplugged” coding lessons are completed, I can confidently and proudly say that thanks to the willingness of our administration and teachers to join forces with me, North Elementary went Beyond an Hour of Code. At times I wanted to cancel the lessons or call in sick. Looking back now, I find confirmation in the words of Mr. Eric Sheninger, who I had the privilege to listen to this fall with Monongalia County Schools.

“When we value something, there is more resolve to overcome obstacles and challenges to accomplish a specified goal. Many times it is our mindset that holds us back. When you really think about it the number one adversary that each of us faces on a daily basis rests between our shoulders. We think we can’t do certain things due to physical or mental limitations. In some cases this might be true, passion has a funny way of helping us overcome certain perceived limitations. When passion is combined with intrinsic motivation, the impossible suddenly becomes possible.” — Eric Sheninger

I am thankful for my passion. It has given me power in recognizing my own strengths and the learning that has occurred thanks to coding my growth mindset.

To see pictures of all of the fun, unplugged activities North Elementary students completed as part of going Beyond an Hour of Code, check us out on Twitter @NorthPanthers1