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Learning to Code at a Young Age. EdX Visits Cambridge Friends School.

Happy #CSEdWeek, #HourofCode!

EdX and CSEdWeek invite learners of all ages, from around the world, to explore computer science and learn to code. CSEdWeek brings awareness to the growing field of CS, and asks learners, specifically K-12, to try their hand at an “Hour of Code.”

This May, edX visited a local elementary and middle school in Cambridge, MA, using one of our CS courses, Programming in Scratch, in a blended classroom. Not only did students love using the online course, but they were given a hands-on opportunity to learn about computer science and computing. At edX, we believe it is important to create opportunity for learners to explore this valuable field, especially at a young age. Read on to learn more about the inspiring students at Cambridge Friends School and their experiences. And, check out Programming in Scratch to begin coding today!

This spring, we visited the Cambridge Friends School, a coeducational elementary and middle school in Cambridge, Massachusetts that is using the HarveyMuddX MOOC Programming in Scratch in their seventh grade math class.

The students were asked to complete three weeks of Scratch lessons at home, splitting their work on the MOOC with their math homework. They then returned to class ready to work collaboratively, share their projects and troubleshoot any difficulties.

While visiting the classroom, we saw children requesting headphones, excited to listen to a video lecture and continue their project work. They were eager to share their work – video games, songs, designs—with each other and with us.

The teacher, Keith, seamlessly moved between talking about the blended learning structure, helping students through tricky problem sets, guiding the class and managing their time. Keith explained that while the students are working collaboratively on Scratch, he tries to remain invisible “while being there to promote their excitement and learning together.”

There was a wide variety of levels in the class, from Pamena, a seventh grader who had previous experience with coding and robotics, to Luca, an “absolute beginner,” and Keith, the teacher, admitted he was a novice as well.

Keith said: “I didn’t know Scratch—I still don’t know Scratch. I took the first two weeks and know more now. The students help each other more than I help them. EdX allows the students to work at their own pace. It gives them a platform for them to move and provides enough challenge to stretch kids, but not hold anyone back.”

Though blended learning is a new concept for many, for today’s seventh graders at Cambridge Friends it is in many ways their norm. Keith has used other online learning tools and platforms in the curriculum and he says “students walk in the door with questions or with something they are proud of, something they accomplished. They’re teaching each other. I’m just the coach.”

Keith then opened up the classroom to discussion, asking the students to not only share their projects with us, but also to provide good, constructive feedback (“the good, the bad and the ugly”).

Students were eager to share not only their work, but also their experience overall.

Once I’m stuck at a point and don’t know what to do next, I go back to the course to learn. quotation from JulianBefore when I didn’t know how to use it, it was like 'whoa!' After edX and the videos, it was more fun. quotation from Liat

The instructor does not give you answers. For [the lessons] to stay in your head, you have to look at them more than once. quotation from ElizaEdX helps give you a push to help you figure things out by yourself. quotation from Luca

As much as the students were interested in talking about and sharing their work, including a song of Heart and Soul, a video game where sharks gobble up fish, and more, they were keen to share thoughts on how to make the MOOC better.

Isa, one seventh grader, suggested a more step-by-step approach with more feedback on the homework. “What would help me is if you watched the video and then had a little homework underneath it with hints to help you along. Then, a quiz after.”

Some of the students were intimidated by the discussion forums, but Luca enjoyed the community. “I saw it as a good thing. When I looked at other people’s stuff it was an inspiration to keep going.”

Cambridge Friends’ mission is to provide an outstanding education. “This school allows us to follow our passions and integrate as much as we can,” said Keith. “Math and computer science seems like a natural.” As part of the school’s mission, Keith looks for challenges that stretch his students, but don’t overwhelm them. And we were so pleased that the Programming in Scratch course fit his criteria.

What’s next for Keith and his class? The students look forward to sharing their projects not only with each other, their fellow MOOC learners, but also with the world. Also, students interested in further exploring Scratch, will use the coding foundation they have learned and apply it to individual projects in the school’s new Maker Space.

And, Keith plans to dedicate his summer to learning how to code to catch up with many of his students.

“My motto is, if there is a tech question, ask the youngest person in the room and you’ll probably get the best answer.”

Enhancing teaching and learning on campus and online is a founding goal of edX. In blended classrooms, the on-campus class can leverage the power of MOOCs to free up classroom time for interactive collaboration, discussion and problem solving. The blended format is already proving its merit, often producing better results than traditional, face-to-face learning alone. We were honored to learn from Keith and his students and experience first-hand how the blended learning format is succeeding and creating an interactive and collaborative learning environment for these seventh graders.

HarveyMuddX is rerunning Programming in Scratch as a self-paced course. Sign up today to join learners from around the world. Happy learning!