Coding as a Formative Assessment Tool

A handful of third graders have spent their lunch time on Fridays in the Open Mind Zone learning about some basic coding. Interest in the group derived from the introduction to a Sphero one day during lunch.  When realizing the device was not something to just maneuver like a remote control, curiosity peaked. We designated 4 Fridays for 6 students to have the chance to explore programming with kid friendly apps and devices.

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We began unplugged by taking a look at what the different lines or blocks of code looked like and what it meant to program something and watch it “run.” By starting with physically moving pieces of paper into place and coding each other, the foundational idea of coding was developed. We then moved onto digital devices.

img_3756Tickle and Tynker are two kid (and adult) friendly apps for learning and testing fundamental codes. With both of these apps, the lines of code appear similar, making operating between the two quite seamless. Students used Tickle to program the Sphero and BB-8 and Tynker for the Rolling Spider Drone. To get an idea of their speed and agility students had one full lunch period to program the devices with complete autonomy.

During the final two sessions, students worked to program the devices through obstacle courses. This is where I would say a majority of the skill building and learning took place.

  • Math skills: adjusting the rate and percentage of speed the devices would move.
  • Problem Solving: altering the number of seconds devices needed to get from one place to another.
  • Communication: talking out the process and collaborating on the lines of code.
  • Persistence: iterating lines of code to have the device move in the correct location.
  • Procedural knowledge: breaking down a larger task into smaller procedures

While observing students through the process of coding, the realization came that these apps were also serving as Formative Response Tools. Formative Assessment being defined by Wikipedia as “…formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.” This was happening every time students tested out their code. They would write the lines of code and with each time they pressed play and watched the device move, they were receiving feedback in order to alter the script, improve it, and move one step closer to completing the challenge. The great thing was, a teacher wasn’t needed to jump in and provide students with the feedback. The app and device provided the feedback, and it was up to the students to determine what adjustments needed to be implemented. This is the second and most important component of Formative Assessment-doing something with the feedback that is given- and in this case the students had full ownership over that process, which empowered them to continue on. As always, now that the awareness has been brought forward and I’ve been able to reflect on the learning experience- more intentional questioning and facilitation will take place on my part as more students come into the Open Mind Zone to code.

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