Middle School Digs Deep into Coding through “Think Tanks”

Middle School students are expanding their coding and computer programming skills through a new series of “think tank” sessions.

If you visited the Bryan Innovation Lab on Wednesday, October 11, you would’ve seen the entire eighth-grade class experimenting with coding as small robotic spheres whizzed across the floor. This activity is just one example of the newly instituted “think tank” curriculum in the Middle School, which aims to give students opportunities to think deeper and learn new skills in coding and computer programming.

Through this new curriculum, every student in grades 6-8 will take part in a three-hour “think tank” workshop scheduled six times a year. Each session is themed and integrates an activity that utilizes coding and computer programming skills.

This month, grades 7 and 8 are programming 13 Sphero SPRK+® robots using the Sphero Edu app—students can make the robotic spheres perform such acts as changing colors, making sounds, spinning in a circle, and navigating through a maze. These grades will also have two workshops to review programming functions and learn more about loops using “Learn to Code 1” in Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app (click here to watch a video and learn more about the program). Upper School Technology Facilitator Samuel Brannon will join the grade 7 teaching team in working with students for this project.

“I love coding, so this activity has been a blast because it’s a hands-on, interactive way to demonstrate what we’ve learned,” said grade 8 student Zoe MacGill about the Sphero robots activity.

Also this month, grade 6 students will focus on problem solving in their sessions. The grade 6 teaching team, including Bryan Innovation Lab Lead Technologist Shane Diller, will lead lessons about algorithms, the difference between linear and binary solutions, and showing how to apply systematic processes to solve a problem.

The think tank program is the result of months of planning by Middle School Technology Facilitator Barbara Coates, who has strived to find a way to incorporate hands-on learning of computer programming topics outside of the standard classroom curriculum.

“I decided to call this a think tank because students are focused on digging deeper into one particular topic for each session,” Ms. Coates said. “It’s not a graded activity or a class per say—it’s an additional opportunity for students to think collaboratively with each other in ways that they may not get to do on a regular school day. They really seem to be enjoying it so far.”

Ms. Coates said the think tank program is also beneficial to faculty members because it’s teaching them new skills that they can incorporate in their existing curriculum. “They can learn something new that they can do with their students and expand even more on the topic,” she said.

Stay tuned as more think tank session topics are announced throughout the year!

 

 

 

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