Sherri Smith


Sherri L. Smith
Business Education Teacher
R. C. Edwards Middle School
Central, South Carolina (School District of Pickens County)

Computer Science is a fascinating area of study. For today’s students, they are quite comfortable with being around technology (i.e., smart phones). However, they do not appear as knowledgeable when it comes to understanding how technology works or using it to create a program or new application.

I have included a few tips that have helped me with my students. In South Carolina, students need to have one credit of computer science to graduate high school. We are able to provide course options starting in 7th grade. So, my goal is to appeal to and engage the masses. I want the students to be excited about the course!

1. Course is for Everyone!

Explain that the course is for everyone (those with and without computing experience). Some students will enter the classroom and say that they are not good with computers. I explain that this class will help all (no worries). Instructions are provided for all regardless of experience. Expect the students to try and grow. Real world connections occur every day. The skills learned transfer to other courses, grade levels, and life in general.

2. Collaboration is Extremely Important.

For my classes, we are able to have all of the work take place during class (unless a student has been absent, etc.). This concept alone takes some pressure off the students. If the students are excited and look forward to class, they will be able to tackle the challenges.

Have students help each other. Often, there will be a variety of leaders, which is key! If a student can explain a concept to another student, that is amazing!

In groups, sometimes students choose, sometimes I choose. Either way, each student needs to have a specific role (play to the student’s strengths).

3. Mistakes are Okay.

We try, test, and reflect. We won’t always have initial success (it’s okay to make mistakes). We follow the problem-solving process (define, prepare, try, and reflect). In addition, we will have a few small group friendly competitions (i.e., Muddy City challenge). Oftentimes, there is more than one approach to a solution. Also, there may be more than one answer. This fact blows the students’ minds! The key is for the students to keep trying. Create a low-risk environment.

4. Share and Celebrate Successes = Confidence!

Confidence has been huge. I love to see a student smile or take pride in his/her success. Not every challenge will be easy, but the work ethic will pay off.

If a student has successfully completed an activity and is willing to help others, I encourage him or her to provide assistance. There are still individual assessments; however, as we are learning a topic, it is important for everyone to learn and experience success. At some point during the course, almost everyone has served as a leader. This process may also help you as a teacher. There is only one of you, but with the students’ help, everyone is able to move forward at a decent pace.

As in other classes, if the students know that you care about them, they will try harder and will be more successful.

5. Variety of Activities

Provide a variety of activities. When possible, I try to balance the workload. We may work on coding one week and use the Finch robots with Snap! or Scratch the next week. Finch Robots (BirdBrain) are great for students who are mechanically inclined. As a result, the students stay motivated and new leaders emerge.

In addition, students are more likely to work harder if they know that the next activity or week will be easier. I never want to overwhelm them. Sometimes, students will enter the room and ask if the day’s activity is difficult. I always give them an honest answer and do my best to uphold the level of expectations.

6. Model & Scaffold Instruction

I model instruction. I also try new approaches and/or activities for the students. Some activities work better than others. This is vital for the students to see.

I have also found that while many of the activities and curriculum are available online, my students thrive when we are in class together. They need some additional support and motivation. If we come across a tricky concept, we review it together and then proceed.

By following this premise, students are able to grasp the concepts. Furthermore, if some students are ready to move ahead, they are encouraged to do so. However, we want to ensure that everyone is able to successfully complete the day’s work.

7. PD Opportunities for Educators

For teachers, I encourage you to seek out professional development opportunities that will help you and your students. So many quality and often free options are available online. When I try something new, I let my students know. I want their feedback. In addition, I model how to approach a subject or activity that is new. Of course, we all prepare for our classes; however, it does not need to be perfect. The important part is that the students are engaged and soar!

Hopefully, these tips will help with your overall classroom culture and student confidence. If students have a great experience in an initial computer science course, the goal is for them to seek out additional opportunities and challenges. The opportunities are plentiful, and the students’ capabilities will amaze you.