I have blogged a lot about coding before, and this is a topic that I continue to contemplate as I learn more about it. When I read the finalized Kindergarten Program Document this summer, I saw some great connections to coding and some explicit mentioning of it as well.
Since our school participated in the Hour of Code, my teaching partner and I decided to try out some coding apps with the students. Many children enjoyed using these apps, and demonstrated various math skills, including directional language, spatial sense, counting skills, subitizing skills, and one-to-one correspondence. That said, there was something about these apps that bothered me … at the time, I wasn’t sure what, but I knew it was something.
Weeks after the Hour of Code, we introduced coding again when a student asked to use the computer one day. He really wanted to play a game, so instead, we thought that we would give him an opportunity for some thinking and application of math skills. We showed this student to Kodable, and before long, a group of other children came over to see what he was doing. They started to take turns playing the game and helped each other throughout the process. I heard lots of different language that made me happy.
- “First you have to go across and then up …”
- “Turn left, then go straight, and then turn right …”
- “You only have 40 seconds now.”
- “Yay! We got 10 more points.”
- “Oh look! I figured out the mistake. I turned the wrong way. This time I have to …”
From the quotes above, you can see the use of mathematical language. You can see the reflection and the willingness to go back and try again. You can also see that coding in this case was “social,” and that’s definitely evident through the videos below.
All of this is wonderful, and yet, there’s still something that’s bothering me …
A couple of days after this, my teaching partner gave a group of students an iPad to use. They used one of coding apps on it. There were many similar conversations to the ones shared above. Stepping back and watching and listening more closely, I started to figure out what was bothering me: many of the students using these coding websites and apps were quickly becoming dysregulated. It was almost like watching a child that spent hours playing a video game. They couldn’t seem to bring themselves down from that game high.
- They were loud.
- They were interrupting each other.
- They wanted control over the game: the iPad or computer needed to be in their hands.
- They were emotional: from huge bouts of excitement to angry cries to upset screams.
- They struggled with pulling themselves away from the device … even when it was time to clean up and to get ready for home.
It didn’t take long for this to happen either: after 5-10 minutes, you could see the change in the students.
Now then, I have my conundrum. On one hand, I love the thinking and math application that comes out of coding. I feel as though if we developed these skills at an early age, students could build on them in later years and do even more. But on the other hand, I’m concerned about the dysregulation that comes from this use of technology, and the impact that this has on our learners. Maybe some low-tech coding options would help, and I realize that this is a possibility, but there’s a lot of great learning that can also come from these high-tech options. I know that the children love these apps and websites, and some may argue that this excitement is just a sign of “engagement.” I wonder if it’s more than that though: could this be a sign of dysregulation, and what might this mean for our learners? We’re currently in an educational system that has us exploring the benefits of coding while also learning more about mental health and well-being. It’s where these two ideas meet, that I’m left wondering the most. What about you?
I think learning how to regulate yourself while engaging in a dysregulating activity is a life skill that everybody needs to learn. While engaging in coding may be a challenge for these kids, perhaps that is due to a lack of exposure to the activity in the past. They are still learning to get comfortable and the novelty makes it an experience that they want to continue. Perhaps what they need is just multiple opportunities to be a part of the activity and many opportunities to learn how to pull away from it. I wonder if they knew that they could return to it another time (and they knew when that was), would it be easier for them to put it away?
Another thought: people tend to really be creative to do more when they are in the flow. It is really disturbing when you get pulled from a flow state. I know that I overreact when I’m being super-productive and somebody interrupts. Perhaps this is what is happening with these students. Maybe they are feeling like they are doing something amazing and important and the extra people around and being told to stop is interrupting them from that awesome feeling of flow. Maybe a question would be “How can we give them the control over their learning and minimize the need to disrrupt them in the middle of what they are doing?” (More devices so each can have one? Longer blocks of time on the device? Knowledge of how long they have so that they can set a more realistic goal of what they want to accomplish?)
I honestly don’t have an answer here… just some questions to think about as you try to work though it.
Thanks for your comment, Melanie! I’m struggling with this one. I wonder if that ability to pull away is really “self-regulation” or “self-control.” And if, as Stuart Shanker says, “self-regulation makes self-control possible,” then what do these children need to self-regulate? I know that if we mentioned a “calming choice,” many of these students could select something that works for them, but it bothers me that we’re putting them in a situation that is dysregulating. If we know this, should we reconsider the option?
As much as I love technology and often joke with my admin that I’m “allergic to paper,” 🙂 I do struggle with our youngest learners (and even any learner), spending too much time on a device. This is a real shift in thinking for me, as I have taught up to Grade 6 before, and in the past, most (if not all) of my students had their own devices. I saw even my oldest students though struggling with looking away from the device and being almost conditioned by each “ding” to check their device and respond to messages. Even in my Grad 5 class, the biggest problems that I dealt with involved games such as Minecraft (which I’ve attempted numerous times to use in the classroom — in different ways — and always rethought its use because of that “pull” on the students). The dysregulation that I see with my Kindergartners is the same dysregulation that I saw with my junior students.
I also think that one of the biggest (and most important) learning that comes out of Kindergarten is that ability to collaborate with others and learn social skills so that they can independently solve problems. Having children spending long blocks of time on devices, especially on their own ones, seems counterproductive to this. They don’t need more screentime. We have long blocks of time for learning and very few transitions throughout the day. Children control almost all of this time, and we start with the child’s play and make connections to the expectations based on our observations. We’ve purposely only used devices near the end of the day because of how we see children responding to them, and often, if children don’t ask, we don’t use them at all. I’m not sure if this is right or wrong. I know that there is value in coding and in these apps, but how much time is too much time? How does self-regulation play into this? I continue to wonder …
Could be trained behaviour stemming from possession of electronic device… Desktops still have the auto pilot of singularity, one keyboard, one mouse, one user at a time. Tablets can have multiple contact points and they have the portability to follow a student into personal spaces – maybe a n exploration of collaborative work with both tools simultaneously could get the kids a bit more neutralized in their property rights mentality..?
Thanks Chris! This is an interesting thought. I wonder if the problems though stem from more than just “control over the device.” The bright colours, loud noises, countdown clock, and excitement of the game, changes the learners. I see the dysregulation. I know that we can exploring calming options to help students calm down afterwards (or that students can self-select as part of self-regulation), but I wonder if there’s a way to avoid this dysregulation. I know that Stuart Shanker has written about video games and dysregulation. Does coding create the same problem, or is it just some coding options? I keep on thinking …