Saturday, February 14, 2015

Single Digits are Smart!

When I first started teaching in Giftedland, my idea of coding was pretty much anything that might have been seen on Get Smart.  We made rotating code wheels, created secret symbols, and tried to crack the codes of our classmates.  Unless you count that one day where we learned binary code, and played with ones and zeroes until we had mastered that fun, coding was pretty limited in its use and scope.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I'm back in the elementary school for 2 hours a week, teaching coding again.  This time the language goes something like this:

WHEN Dash SEES Dot
Go forward 50
Turn 90
Go forward 50.

(Do you see the error in that code?  Through trial and error, we discovered that when Dash sees Dot and rushes forward 50, he literally BOWLS her over.  A simple re-write made much more sense when Dash turned 90 FIRST, and then ran 50 and 50...)

Sure, we're not as sophisticated as the Culper Spy Ring, but hey -- we're five, six, and fifty-three years old, respectively, and we're learning.  Yes, we're learning to code.

Single Digit People Are Smarter than Ever.

Maybe it's technology, maybe it's the advanced curriculum now in most preschools, but kids are capable of much more, at a much younger age.  Despite the fact that adults want to attribute childhood obesity to junk food and video games, kids these days are considerably more advanced than the previous generation was at the same age.  Much of that technology allows kids to try, and fail, within the privacy of their own screen, without fear of ridicule.  Oh, and these little people are absolute mimics when it comes to absorbing new information.  So why are we not spending more time talking to them about their brains?

The American Museum of Natural History had a fabulous exhibit on the brain, and still maintains a nice website on the subject here.  So what would happen if first graders were encouraged to understand the functioning of their brains?  Seriously, that sounds like some deep stuff to introduce to small minds, yet the research shows that they will absorb and retain more of an understanding than we'd be inclined to think. 

This week, I spent some time talking to my little friends about growth, as we worked to write code for our robot friends, Dash and Dot.  How do we make robots smarter?  ("Silly, Mrs. Heydt, ROBOTS can't be smarter unless we TELL them how to be!") 

Okay, so how do we TELL robots to be smarter?  (Apparently a much better question.  "We program more confusing directions in our code and they will LOOK smarter because they will do more!")

Little do they know, but they're about to learn about a new friend, Carol Dweck, and her incredible research on the brain.  Just wait for next week.  Because once we can create growth mindsets at an early, moldable, age, our possibilities are infinite.

Which, by the way, was the vocabulary word of the week when working with the robots. 


**P.S.  If you are not fortunate enough to have a Dash or Dot hanging out with you at your house, you can learn some basic coding at www.hourofcode.com.  I dare you to spend an hour "playing" with the Angry Birds or Elsa and Ana.  You just might learn something.