I love teaching sixth grade, and it’s one of the reasons why I wake up so happy each and every morning. I love challenging students to think critically. I love watching my students struggle through problems using perseverance and a growth mindset. I love guiding students to the metaphorical watering hole of learning and watching them figure out what to do once there. I love teaching Humanities and our study skills classes. I love helping students learn how they learn best. I love helping students broaden their perspective. I love everything about my role in the sixth grade this year, well, almost everything that is.
Last May when the school needed to hire a new co-teacher to work with me in the sixth grade, I was offered a choice: Teach STEM or teach Humanities? As I majored in English in college, I feel most qualified to teach the Humanities class; however, I developed the STEM class three years ago and have been the only teacher of the course since its inception. It’s kind of my thing, but I was never formally trained in teaching math or science and so I always felt like I had to do much learning on my own outside of class. My understanding of the STEM content was very limited. While I loved teaching STEM class, I always felt a little in over my head. So, I chose to stick with Humanities. While I love teaching my Humanities class, I do miss the hands-on and engaging projects I had the students do last year in STEM class. Don’t get me wrong, my new co-teacher is doing a fabulous job teaching the STEM course this year, but I do miss all of the fun I had in STEM class the past three years. It’s very easy to get students excited about a topic when they are able to play with Little Bits to create a working rover. It’s a lot harder to get students excited about the topic of government in Humanities class, no matter what type of project or activity is used to convey the information. I miss working with the students in STEM class.
Today reminded me, yet again, of just how much I miss teaching STEM class. In our study skills class today, I pushed the PAUSE button on our regularly scheduled unit on Academic Integrity so that I could have the students participate in the global Hour of Code event taking place this week. After showing the students a short video created by the wonderful folks at Code.org, I had the boys choose an activity on the Hour of Code website to complete for the remainder of class, which ended up being about 30 minutes. The boys had so much fun learning how to create the fun and engaging video games they often play including Minecraft, Flappy Bird, and other such games. The students persevered through challenges, asked peers for help when needed, used a growth mindset to think critically about their problems in new and unique ways, and had a ton of fun learning how computer coding works. They learned how if and then statements work as well as how difficult it is to create just one tiny portion of a very complex video game. They realized how important every space, digit, or letter truly is when coding. At the end of the period, the boys looked as though they had lost their puppy dog when I had them shut their laptops to close the class. They didn’t want to stop programming games and having fun. They didn’t want to stop learning. A few students remained in the classroom during their free period 90 minutes later to keep working on the coding projects they had started earlier in the day. The boys had so much fun engaging in an activity that hopefully inspired them to learn more and perhaps made a few of the boys realize where their passion lies.
In STEM class last year, I had the students use the online program Code Combat on a weekly basis to learn computer coding. The boys had so much fun learning how to make computer games. I really missed that, until today. Today gave me a taste of what I was missing, and made me realize that I don’t have to miss it. Coding isn’t just a STEM topic. Coding applies to every subject. Computer coding can be used to help students learn how to be brief and succinct writers in English class. Coding can be used to help students work through challenging math problems in the form of games. Coding can be used to help students understand complex ideas such as government. Coding doesn’t have to be something that is only taught in tech or STEM classes. Coding could and should be taught or covered in every class. I could easily use coding programs in Humanities class or our study skills course. I don’t have to pine away for what once was when I can bring the magic into the classes I am currently teaching. I can use coding to inject a little more engagement into the classes I do teach. Coding is the language of the future, and so I should capitalize on this in every way possible.