What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Coding?

Computer Science Education Week begins today, and is often associated with the #HourOfCode. Some students will be receiving their first introduction to coding, and while it’s exciting for children to try new things and be introduced to options that may be valuable to them in the long run — from solving problems to employment opportunities — I wonder if this Education Week article may be one of the most important ones to consider.

I’m always conflicted when it comes to this week in education. Most years, I try to do something associated with coding

The more that I learn about self-regulation though, the more that I struggle with some of these coding options. Many students become dysregulated …

  • by the moving robots with the numerous sounds and blinking lights (Biological Domain). 
  • by the time spent in front of a screen (Biological Domain). 
  • by the activities that may exceed their reading, writing, or math skills, and lead to a frustrating — instead of “positive” — struggle (Cognitive Domain).
  • by the need to work collaboratively with other people to complete the tasks effectively (Social Domain).
  • by the multiple failures that may or may not lead to eventual successes (Cognitive Domain).

In a relatively small Kindergarten classroom with 27 students that’s beside another classroom — with no full wall — and 26 students, the thought of knowingly causing this dysregulation is hard for me. Paula and I have worked for a long time with our amazing kids to create a calm learning environment for everyone, and what might some of these coding options do to this environment?

As you can see, you go from one room, turn the corner, and are in the other room.

There is also another important reality to consider: neither Paula or I are particularly comfortable with coding. We’ve both had a few experiences with it, but quickly the tasks become more than either of us can do with ease — or even with a good struggle — and this leads to another problem. At times, as the adults, we also feel dysregulated, and often the children, pick up on these feelings and mimic them in their own words and actions. So knowing this, again makes me wonder, what can we do about this, and how can we still provide children with a meaningful learning experience without undo stress?

All of this thinking brings me back to the Education Week articleWhat if, instead of focusing on the tool or activity, we make this week about developing thinking and problem solving skills? These are two key components of our Kindergarten Program Document. For children, how we support the development of these skills, may be in different ways.

  • It could be through coding activities or the use of robots such as Dash, Dot, or Sphero. 
  • It could be through low-tech coding options that include the introduction and reinforcement of mathematical terminology, such as directional language.
  • It could be through building or art options — maybe even with a Makerspace potential — that could eventually connect with the two other bullet points.

My thinking is that these options are differentiated. They allow us to focus on the child first, and develop choices that will help this child meet with success, while engaging in a positive struggle. They also link back to a bigger area of learning — around thinking and problem solving — that will be worth continuing to explore well after this week is over. 

As educators, we constantly talk about knowing our kids best. This is as true over Computer Science Education Week as over any other week of the year. Let us continue to be true to our students, as well as ourselves, and find options that challenge thinking, inspire problem solving, but still support a calm learning environment for all. What do you think? As this exciting week begins, I’d love to hear what you have planned.



4 thoughts on “What If We Focused On Thinking And Problem Solving Instead Of Coding?

  1. AvivaAviva. Aviva, you make such good points – again! We spent a lot of time at our K-3 summer institutes talking about learning to code – building those skills that underpin coding without actually coding per se. We also talked about how important it is to build understanding without the technology – lots of work on carpet grids (or homemade grids with bedsheets) and practicing what it looks like and sounds like to give precise directions, to listen and follow those directions and how to “debug” the directions when something goes wrong. I agree that we are sometimes too eager to push kids into the technology before we have given them the skills. The nice thing is that many of the skills are things we are already doing ( making decisions, pitting things in order/sequence, retelling, giving step by step instructions to do something, repeating patterns, etc.! Thanks again for provoking my thinking!

    • Thanks Jill! I love hearing about what you do through the Summer Institutes to work on coding without necessarily the use of technology. The skills you list are such important ones, and make me think even more about what we can do in the classroom to develop this thinking without necessarily pulling out the device.


  2. Computational thinking is what’s key here, and while I love introducing my students to coding, I also think it’s incredibly important to teach them problem solving. When I do coding activities, as part of #hourofcode and at other times, I often do it as part of other activities. In French class, we used it to build games, and then work on our procedural writing. Could we give good instructions? (For me, who needs really good instructions to do new tasks,this is a big skill). Last year, we used code to work on our transfornational geometry tasks in math – it was a real world example of the 4 quadrant grid.

    As we’ve talked about a lot, Aviva, I think much of this comes down to that idea of the “bilingual” classroom, which is really the regulated classroom. Offer students multiple ways to get to the problem-solving – for some of my Grade 7/8 students, on-screen coding is a place where they have more resilience, because they really want to solve the puzzle. For others, one-on-one pencil and paper challenges might work better, or creating a circuit with circuitscribe or squishy circuits. I’m putting together a presentation on knitting and adapting patterns as computational thinking. I probably problem-solve more when I’m knitting and baking than in most things I do, and I enjoy it immensely. If I can give a really tactile kid the opportunity to work with soft materials for a bit during the day, while problem-solving? That’s a win.

    Continuing the learning, for both our students and ourselves is key. And if you and Paula are stumped, and have a kidlet who really wants to go on? Find an older buddy – they’ll help, and help you regulate, too.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lisa, but also making me think even more about the computational thinking and language links to coding. I think it’s always important to consider why we do what we do, and the links to the curriculum (and even bigger ideas in the curriculum) are key. Knowing our learners and what they need are also so important, and for some, maybe the tech options are good ones for them. I love your idea of pairing younger students with older ones to explore some of these options. I don’t think that this is for everyone, and maybe it’s not even for this week, but having a confident child support another one may even help reduce the stressors for me. This is a good reminder that we don’t need to be the expert at everything!


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