When children are first introduced to computers, much of their attitude has been formed by their parents' technical comfort level. Studies performed by the FCC indicate that nearly half of Americans are effectively computer illiterate. That can increase the negative bias felt by their children. Thinkersmith wants to be careful not to introduce young children to technology in a way that makes them feel overly frustrated or a sense of imminent failure.
When Thinkersmith visits elementary schools, we are cognizant of the reassurance that we hand out. We praise valiant attempts at solutions, highlight solutions that didn't work (but teach the student how to step closer to victory), and remind children that learning through trial and error is essential to computational thinking. While teaching, here are some of the ideas we try to keep in mind:
- Don't lavish praise on students for being "smart".
That can make nearby children feel inferior and indicate that success is attainable only for those who already have an intellectual label.
- Instead, try to point out how hard a child is working, or how focused they are being. Give credit for listening, persistance, and teamwork. Praising an action, rather than a quality is a better way to encourage other children to adopt positive behaviors.
- Don't take over a project for a child when they request help.
Making quick adjustments or completing the "last few steps" for a student may be tempting for an adult on a time-crunch, but it reaffirms the notion that if a child gets stuck they can benefit from giving up. Even worse, taking over a project can deflate an eager child's enthusiasm if they feel that they weren't understanding as quickly as you expected them to.
- Offer suggestions in words. Lead children to figure out the last steps on their own. If the task is physical, encourage them to try it in several different ways to see if there is a technique that works better for them. If they decide that they just "can't" do it, remind them that a positive attitude is the best learning tool. If it starts to look like their project might go home unfinished, remind them that sometimes it's better to set difficult problems aside and come back to them. Encourage them to take another look at it when they get home or over the weekend.
- Don't let the students take over.
Students love to ask questions and share their stories. This can be a good thing, but it can also derail one of our short little lessons. It's important that the kiddos stay on track and listen so that we can get to all parts of the lesson.
- Encourage children to share their stories in writing or pictures.
Once in a while, a child will claim to have a question and begin on a long, fluffy story. You want to pull the class back on track quickly. Try folding your hands in the steeple position (pointing or shooshing can be seen as aggressive), then interrupt the child with a line like "I can tell this story is going to be amazing and I don't want to rush it, since time is so short right now. Would you mind writing your story down for me and having your teacher send it to me in the mail?" Take an additional moment to remind the class that you love it when kids put stories on paper and redirect back to the activity. If a frenzy of hands continues, let the students know you will give them time for questions at the end.
- Don't forget the quiet ones.
Quiet and patient students rarely get tended to as quickly. Because of that, we can easily reach the end of our time segment before we realize that they have a problem.
- Give students a way to ask for help discreetly.
Sometimes students don't ask for help because they are embarrassed that they don't know what's going on. You can ask if anyone has questions, but there are often children that won't raise their hands because they don't want anyone to know. During complex activities, tell students that they can raise their hands with questions, or they can fold a piece of paper on their desk. Giving students a nonchalant way of gaining your attention is the first step to letting you help build their self-confidence.