School-age me would rather have cleaned toilets with my toothbrush than study math. That is, until the 8th grade. Though only about five feet tall, Mrs. Washington exuded tons of warmth, wit, and wisdom. She turned the classroom into a learning lab, encouraging us to explore concepts instead of just memorizing them.
As I made my own connections, I was surprised by enjoying myself! Not just myself - math! That single class kindled a love for STEM and teaching I didn’t know I had. So now, about to begin the Lab’s first coding camp at Arizona’s Little Singer Community School, I applied three important principles that I’d learned in Mrs. Washington’s class.
First, personal attention is key in teaching! To make sure every student got the help they needed, Aaron and I split up to teach in smaller groups. Aaron joined the 3rd and 4th graders with their teachers, Mary Jimmie and Bernice, while I teamed up with our school contact, Tom, for the 5th and 6th graders.
If a peer couldn’t help, the students would ask, “Miss Autumn, can you help me?” and I’d run around the room answering every question I could. (I was thankful I’d worn flats!) Guiding students through the exercises, I’d remind them to start with the first direction and go from there. Break the problem up into chunks, and it seems easier to solve.
Many of the students caught on to this practice right away, and no longer needed my assistance for the rest of the camp. They were becoming independent learners, teaching themselves via Code Avengers, with no background in coding, and most of them with minimal computer access. It was awesome.
The second principle I used was peer communication. Even if I find a good way to solve a problem, a friend of mine might have a better way! Working together creates max efficiency. Since we had a lunch break built into the schedule, Aaron and I met up daily at the cafeteria to debrief during lunch. This way, we could discuss how our students were responding to the lessons and prepare for the second half of the day.
Lastly, I made sure we encouraged student teaching. We hosted three coding segments, with the first for Kindergartners, the second for 1st grade, and the last for 2nd grade. Each segment included exercises tailored for the appropriate grade level as well as six students from 5th and 6th grade. These older students acted as the younger students’ “buddies” and teachers! Seeing students as young as five years old learning about coding thrilled me to no end. The older students also got a kick out of it, enjoying their teaching role and gaining more experience with the online platforms.
I hated to leave LSCS, but I also felt a deep sense of satisfaction. We had engaged young minds with a field they had never learned about before. We had given them confidence in trying new things and teaching themselves. And we had encouraged their teachers, who watched their students eagerly pick up a new skill and excel at it.
On the whole, our first camp was a huge success. I’m extremely grateful to Tom, LSCS, and Code Avengers.