Middle School curriculum

Middle School Curriculum

Dear Panda Programmer,

My son is in middle school and would like to learn how to code.  I saw that you teach middle school students as well as elementary school students.  How are they in the same programming class?  Aren’t the ages too disparate?  And would a middle schooler begin with Scratch, or Python, or ScratchJr?  Thanks in advance,

Pam in New York City

Who uses Scratch? and What is ScratchJr?

Many parents ask us: Who uses Scratch? and What is ScratchJr?

These are two interesting but very different questions!  (and they come up often as we teach coding for kids)
Scratch is used by many people from all backgrounds, in all countries around the world. The last count we are aware of is 43 million registered users! They use it in all types of settings: schools, libraries, homes, museums, community locations, and more. Scratch is designed especially for young people ages between 7 and 16, but people of all ages create and share with Scratch. Traditionally younger children tend to use ScratchJr, a simplified version of Scratch designed for ages 5 to 6. 
ScratchJr is an introductory programming language that enables young children (ages 5-6) to create their own interactive stories and games. ScratchJr users do not need to know how to type! Children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. While the programs in ScratchJr are simpler than those of Scratch, the logical thinking required to create ScratchJr programs is remarkably the same. Children can modify ScratchJr characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their custom characters come to life.
ScratchJr is available as a free app for both iPad and Android tablets.

Thoughts on remote learning

With the end of lockdowns hopefully approaching, many parents of school-age children will breathe a sigh of relief. No longer will they have to monitor their children’s virtual assignments or worry about how to manage the Zoom classroom for their kids. The pandemic and the executive orders to close schools have challenged teachers, parents, and children. The stress of making sure that children are learning what they should be learning has added an extra layer of pressure on both parents and teachers. We hope that by next fall, school personnel will have figured out a way for students and faculty to return safely to school. But the reality of COVID-19 is that many students may start the fall with some version of online instruction. Even if children go in person, at some point during the year, schools may have to then revert to virtual learning. The question becomes: How can parents best support their children if they have to rely on virtual instruction again? What we know from informal observation is that some children have managed better than others this spring. Some children adapted easily to the Zoom classroom and video interactions. Other children had more difficulty managing the work presented mostly through screen instructions. One woman Leila interviewed her seven-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, to gain insight into the experience of online learning – what worked, what was harder, what she liked about online learning and what she missed about not being in her classroom. She is just finishing first grade and was happy to answer questions. We recognize that this is just one child’s view, but she provided some great input on the merits and drawbacks of online learning – answers that help us understand this experience through the eyes of a child who has been thrust out of the classroom and onto the computer. Asked if she liked online learning, Sarah said, “Yes, because when I am done with learning I can play. I don’t have to wait for everyone else.” Each day, she watches the videos her teachers make for her, and when she completes them, she gets to play. She also observed that “in school, kids can be loud and teachers have to pause in the middle and wait. At home, no one else is making it loud.” This child is clearly a self-regulated learner; she has the insight to recognize that when kids talk, it gets in the way of her understanding the teacher. Sarah is a child who likes working at her own pace and prefers a quiet environment. Most children learn more efficiently when there are fewer distractions. However, every child learns differently, and this is one area parents could explore with their children. Sarah disliked several things about learning online. She noted that getting help was harder. “In school, the teacher knows what we are working on together. At home, I have to explain to Mom or Dad what we are working on before they can help me.” Also, she noted that when her teacher gives instructions in class, she uses props, which are more difficult to see online. Sarah added, “Real school is easier because you can ask for help and you don’t have to figure things out alone.” Finally, online instruction has the usual internet glitches. “Sometimes the screen flickers and makes weird noises.” And sometimes, she added, “Online instruction is boring.” We too can feel that way after endless Zoom calls. We do not necessarily think that Sarah’s experience is universal. Rather, we are encouraging parents to take a few moments to talk with their own children regarding their online classroom experience this spring. By understanding how your children manage online instruction, you may be able to partner with them to create a more effective personal learning environment when schools reopen next fall. panda

Coding for kids

Is Coding for kids really that important?

In a word, “Yes!”

  • Coding teaches students to think ahead and strategize a solution. These abilities are helpful across many different challenges and endeavors.
  • Coding teaches kids not to give up. Programmers know that rarely does a program run as expected the first time. But by trying over and over, the programmer is usually able to debug the program and get the results he or she desires.
  • Coding is challenging and collaborative. Panda Programmer encourages students to work together on programs from time to time. Students find that anyone can (including themselves!) can come up with the winning approach to a stubborn programming issue.
  • Coding is good for the brain. We have all heard the phrase “Use it or lose it.” Coding falls into the category of activities that requires students to use their brains to succeed.
  • Coding is fun! Coding is a great pursuit that combines all of the advantages mentioned here in a manner that is enjoyable and fun for students young and old. “Fun” keeps students coming back to coding!

-Panda Programmer