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“What are the coordinates of where we're moving to?”
The teacher's question is met with a flurry of raised hands. He picks a student to answer, she gets it right, and the class moves into independent working time. One student is levels ahead, already unlocking the tougher coding challenges beyond the first five “training wheels” exercises. Another two students point out mistakes in each other's coding and move forward together. The sound of furious typing is punctuated by the occasional “Ohh” and “Yes!” as things click into place.
These students are 5th graders and already learning how to write code.
Coding is complex work, so the design of 9 Dots' Computer Science (CS) pathway prepares students for the difficulty of simplifying their work – an easily under-estimated process that requires high-level analytical and problem-solving skills. From the way 9 Dots plans their curriculum to work like building blocks to the gamified interface they created to support both students and teachers, their focus on cultivating a truly engaging classroom environment is what makes their impact on the next generation so significant.
3rd and 4th graders begin their coding journey by navigating a graphical interface that familiarizes them with the structure and syntax of programming. By the time they enter a 5th grade classroom, many become quickly proficient in typing out their own code, with several even applying and broadening this knowledge on their own through an after-school robotics club.
While being fluent in programming languages is undeniably a useful skill for the future, a 9 Dots classroom emphasizes the multiple useful skills one picks up when learning how to code. The classroom is quiet as students troubleshoot their own work, double-checking their code for spelling errors. With all their focus and attention to detail, it was impossible to tell that they had just come back from recess.
Much of this environment is carefully cultivated by the teacher who hands laptops out ten minutes before recess so students can play with the 9 Dots interface. Details like adding a robot icon to the instruction page and using shapes and colors to visualize the functions they're coding keeps the interface intuitive for students. It also eases their transition into a math class where they might recognize why coordinates are necessary to plot a graph. On the back-end, teachers are able to track the progress of students in real-time and assist those stuck on an easier level who are hesitant to ask for help.
As you leave the classroom you notice a poster hangs on the wall reminding students that they can use CS as a superpower for art, sustainability, social justice, and more, it's not at all difficult to feel hopeful at our glimpse of the future.