Imagine you’re sitting at a table in the middle of a long meeting. You can hear the presenter in the front of the room droning on, but there’s nothing to keep you engaged other than the presenter’s voice. Your mind begins to wander and you miss what the presenter just explained. Even as you try to pay attention, you start to feel bored, tired, and eager to move.
We’ve all been in a similar situation—one where we know important information is being presented to us, but we still struggle to pay attention. Students are no different, especially young learners. If we want elementary school students to focus, and ultimately learn computer science, we need to make sure that the lessons we teach are interesting to them.
We’ve compiled six helpful tips for engaging elementary students in computer science.
1. Encourage discovery learning.
“Why do I need to learn this?” “How will I use this in real life?” These questions, or some version of them, can be heard in every classroom. Kids are naturally curious. They search for meaning and reason as they learn new things. As educators, it’s important to recognize the benefits of this desire to explore.
Because of their curiosity, they are natural problem solvers. If students are shown a tower made of blocks, they will likely try to use blocks to emulate the tower before them, creating a structure that is similar in appearance or complexity to the first tower.
Computer science education works the same way. By showing students the possibilities of what they can make with code, and providing them with resources to support them, we enable students to use their problem-solving skills.
2. Get excited.
Students look to their teachers for cues when learning new topics. If a teacher is apprehensive about a topic, students will notice. Likewise, when a teacher is excited, students will recognize and often mirror that enthusiasm.
Having a positive attitude towards computer science will foster a positive energy in your classroom that will allow students to open themselves up to learning new things!
3. Show that coding is creative.
Many students are hesitant about learning computer science because they associate it with math or science, subjects that they may struggle with. So, rather than first introducing computer science as fitting into the same category as those STEM subjects, start by introducing it as a creative outlet.
Students are constantly looking for opportunities to express their creativity and individuality. Computer science allows them to create algorithms, animations, websites, and more. These projects can be centered around whatever topics interest them most.
As a teacher, you can foster excitement around computer science by emphasizing how it enables students to be creative.
4. Incorporate students’ interests.
Music, sports, video games, reading, art, and any other hobby you can think of. Our classrooms are filled with students whose interests are diverse and wide-ranging. Computer science can be used as a tool to celebrate those interests.
Educators can encourage students to build a website about their cultural traditions, favorite hobbies, future goals, and more. You can also incorporate these interests in your lesson plans. Offering students opportunities to represent their individuality will motivate and engage them in computer science learning.
5. Use hands-on learning.
Imagine sitting at a desk, taking notes for thirty minutes on how to cook your favorite dessert. Now, imagine learning by actually making the dessert by following the recipe. Which one seems more exciting?
Students learn best through hands-on experience. Computer science principles don’t have to be taught in a lecture. For example, you could teach students what an algorithm is by asking them to guide you through an obstacle with directions. Students may make mistakes or give incorrect directions, but they will exercise their problem-solving skills and learn to give clearer instructions along the way.
Hands-on learning, like the example shared above, allows students to engage more with the content. Students not only enjoy learning this way, but it also helps them to better understand and retain the information they’re being taught.
6. Invite students to share.
Inviting your students to share their work is a great way to keep them engaged and excited. Presenting also fosters innovation and builds confidence.
Whether they choose to share their work or choose not to and instead celebrate their peers’ accomplishments, students get excited about coding when they know they can showcase their hard work.
By engaging early learners in computer science, we are setting them up for success throughout their education and beyond. Creating a fun space to learn about coding allows students to feel comfortable with this subject early on and gives them a head start as they continue in their computer science education journey.