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Meet the Teacher: Enzo Ciardelli

Reposted from the Scratch Foundation Blog

By My Nguyen

Ontario teacher Enzo Ciardelli is not a computer science teacher. In fact, he had minimal experience with coding prior to introducing it to his 6th grade class at Gordon Price Elementary School last September.

Yet, earlier this month, Ciardelli and his students used the Scratch programming language to command Sphero — a robotic ball device — to form a square.

Once they mastered the geometry lesson, Ciardelli’s students voluntarily wrote more code. This time, to make Sphero spin and change color.

With blended learning lessons like these, Ciardelli joins other educators around the world who view coding simply as another mode of education and expression. They aim to emphasize computational skills and the real-world applications of technology, rather than to focus on computer science exclusively as a means to a career.

Ciardelli believes that all students should have the opportunity to learn how to code and places high value on the soft skills to be gained from the experience. Ciardelli told The Hamilton Spectator:

“Coding, for me, promotes a lot of skills. It promotes skills like collaboration, seeing things through to the end. It promotes that grit — that growth mindset that you have to keep trying.”

Ciardelli poses with coding enthusiasts from his 6th grade class at Gordon Price Elementary.

Scratch Foundation spoke with Ciardelli to learn more about his classroom’s experience with Scratch and coding.

What was your background in coding prior to introducing it to your classroom?

I had some background in coding and HTML, but my experience beyond that was minimal. I basically learned slightly ahead of the kids. I developed best practice as I taught (e.g. sharing lines of code, group/paired).

Why did you decide to use Scratch?

I tried some of the other offerings online, and there appears to be many options. Some are very good. Many appeal to a slightly older age group provided they have coding experience.

Twitter was an amazing resource to dialogue with teachers who are coding. I met wonderful teachers around the world who provided advice. I also met Ontario teachers who helped me marry coding with the Ontario Curriculum. We started to and continue to share coding ideas with each other.

I basically needed a starting point that was uniform for all kids. Scratch was an excellent starting and continuing point. The block-coding made it ideal for kids to learn. Once I saw that it fulfilled my needs, I abandoned the other tools. Scratch makes coding easier, but still a challenge. The kids made progress on Scratch quickly.

Can you tell me about an instance where you used Scratch in your instruction that was particularly successful?

When teaching algebra using two-step equations, it really emphasized the concept. Students can see, for instance, you need one block to multiply (step one), then another block to add (step two). We coded problems involving how many blocks would result from a growing problem. The focus is clearly on the equation.

An equation that Ciardelli’s students coded using Scratch

With Scratch, we used the list feature to develop a t-chart. All of these tools were developed as we progressed. Kids naturally saw the benefits of lists and variables without me just telling them.

Also, when we started to use formulas for area or perimeter, students were able to investigate how they were formed. They had to understand formulas for perimeter to code it properly. When they made mistakes, they had to debug their code. With debugging, they were able to see that they needed to fix the formula. With coding, they also have to focus on the language they use so that their app is user friendly. They have to ask the right questions and explain concepts well to the user.

Why do you think Scratch resonates with children?

I think it resonates because it appeals to everyone. Scratch makes coding accessible to all learners. Any student can use it and have their success. It removes the syntax involved in coding allowing students to focus on the process.

Scratch supplements my math but students can use it for fun as well. Many students were coding their own games on their own time. So, basically, it appeals to all learners, while providing a challenge at the same time.

Ciardelli’s students use coding as a tool, rather than as a separate curriculum.

Why is learning to code important?

I think every student should try coding and have access to it. Coding appeals to many learners, and students will find their own strengths in it. There will be different levels of success for coding. There are a number of students that will find a passion in it. Where would that passion grow without exposure to it? Even students with slightly less success made progress and became quite proficient. It was amazing. Every student loved programming a robot or flying a drone.

Coding builds amazing learning skills even if they do not pursue CS in high school. Students learn problem solving in an authentic way. They learn to persevere and not to give up. The collaboration absolutely blew my mind. Students do not even realize they are working together to find a problem. They actually fixate.

Coding provides computational thinking and problem solving. Some teachers and parents think that coding suits computer programmers only or the next Bill Gates. This belief is simply not true. Computational thinking is a skill in high demand in our labour force. Students can not escape technology. If students are not computer programmers, they may be involved in developing or using software. Computational thinking is also divergent thinking. Students need to learn that problems do not resolve themselves unless they dialogue and persevere. Did you know that there may not be enough qualified students to fulfill a job market demand for graduates with computer science backgrounds? These jobs are not all computer programmers. If they start coding in elementary school, these skills will be engrained as they continue their studies into high school.

What plans do you have to incorporate coding into your classroom next year?

This year was a trial year, and I probably found some inefficiencies looking back. I hope to push it further. I have some students that I would like to take coding further. They have a solid base this year — I hope to develop that.

My big dream is that coding becomes a regularly accepted activity in elementary schools. If students can build a PowerPoint presentation or prepare a display board, they should have the option to code an app that demonstrates their understanding of curriculum.

Some of Ciardelli’s have taken initiative to continue working on their coding projects at home.

What advice do you have for teachers who’d like to introducing coding in their classrooms?

Try it! Don’t be afraid! There are teachers who are taking the plunge with you, and learning with students is such an amazing feeling. Teachers new to coding can also contact others — like me! Twitter is also a wonderful place to post your work and ask for advice.

Teachers should start small and observe the gains. The first experiment we did was coding shapes. I could not believe how well it fit my math goals in teaching.

We are igniting something very important for our kids. You may feel hesitant to teach something that is less familiar, but you will have so much fun.