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In my classroom, students are the teachers—here’s why it works

Students learning coding, computer science create how-to videos as tutorials for their classroom peers.

We have all heard the words, “don’t give up!” It is a constant reminder to keep going, to persevere in tough situations and when things aren’t working well, try again.  Frequently, students in my programming class get frustrated when working on a project and debugging code. As a teacher, how do you keep them inspired to work through their challenges?

I struggle with this thought when I see expressions of defeat on some of their faces after working on code that keeps producing errors. Some students will dig deeper and truly use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to find an answer, but others may give up, convinced that they just can’t do it.

As part of the new MA Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards, teachers are required to use lessons that allow students to use their “critical thinking and problem solving skills.” These skills are usually embedded in their daily teaching environment, but there is no guarantee that students use them effectively to attain their goals.

How do we motivate learners to use these skills and not give up when they are challenged with a difficult task?

Motivating learners is a key element in teaching and we are well versed on all the methods to introduce topics and start lessons with attention-grabbing techniques. But after we wow them with our “essential questions,” eye-catching videos, and icebreaker games, how do we keep them focused to use those critical thinking skills to solve a problem?

(Next page: An assignment that turns students into teachers–with success!)

Into to Programming Class: The Assignment

1. Identify the problem and find a solution

Thinking along these lines, I decided that I would create an assignment that asked students to think of one aspect of code that they struggled with and document it. On their own, or through collaboration with others, they would then come up with a solution to make their code work. Since there are various ways to write code to attain the same result, students have the opportunity to investigate what works for them and share their level of understanding.

 2. Document the steps to the solution

Students would then document the steps that took them to their solution.

3. Create a “how-to” video to share with others

Using a screencasting program such as Screencastify, students were then required to create a “how-to” video to explain how they arrived at their solution.

I found that student tutorials were inspirational in having students use their critical thinking and problem solving skills in my programming class. Knowing that they had to explain what they learned to assist others gave them a sense of personalized learning and accountability.

Each student documented and recorded a different concept that was a personal challenge and in turn, showed a global audience that they didn’t give up on themselves. What a great way to have students inspire their fellow students!

In this example one student describes how to create a timer for her Alice 3 Boat Race project. Hannah struggled with this concept, but was proud to assist others with her findings. Great job, Hannah!

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