How to Use Coding to Teach Social Skills

Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan, LCSW, School Counselor

Who am I to talk about coding?

I’ve got to be honest. I don’t really know how to code, not like “program a computer” code. I know the basics in relation to elementary school include providing children with opportunities to build “mastery in sequencing skills, counting, problem solving, logical thinking, cause and effect, and critical thinking,” (Sokoler, S. 2018). In the scheme of things, I really don’t understand rocket science, either; but that’s not going to stop me from imparting the foundational skills my elementary students need to someday become the next great mind at NASA or wherever they share their greatness.

What I am skilled at is coming up with creative ways to teach children (K-2) about the way they think, feel, and learn. At a time when social interactions have evolved to include devices and screen time, and less personal interactions and play time; competing with technology to be engaging can be a struggle. But what if we don’t have to compete? What if our social interactions and our use of technology complimented each other?

“At a time when social interactions have evolved to include devices and screen time, and less personal interactions and play time, competing with technology to be engaging can be a struggle. But what if we don’t have to compete? What if our social interactions and our use of technology complimented each other?”

-Betsy O’Neill-Sheehan, School Counselor

An innovative squad (including Leigh Boland, Math Coach, and Val Sousa, kindergarten teacher) presented a series of professional development workshops aimed at incorporating advances in technology and APPs to our PreK – 2 staff. While there is always something to learn from a colleague who is passionate about what they do, I admit I was a bit skeptical as to how coding and school counseling would jive. Staff was urged to “jungle tiger” (inspired by Trevor Regan @ Train Ugly), to take the risk of trying something out of their comfort zone.

“We are preparing our children for a future with jobs that haven’t been imagined yet. Think of the technology we had 10 years ago. We had no idea we would develop in those 10 years. What will technology, society, jobs be like in the future? We need to prepare our students for that.

– Leigh Boland inspires a group of PreK to 2 teachers.

As I tried the coding products through LearningResources.com, including the Code & Go Robot Mouse, I realized that coding and counseling have a lot in common. Those skills I referenced earlier? They weren’t just connected to computer science, these are skills that my students need socially: to slow down and organize their thinking and interactions.

Take executive functioning, for example. Many students struggle to slow their thoughts and bodies to focus and organize thoughts, problem solve and regulate emotions. We break it down step by step, with visuals, movements, reminders, social stories… all great methods. School teams experiment to find ways that work best for individual students. Why not include coding on this list?

Why include coding?

Why coding? Because it’s engaging for students and relevant to their future. They can understand the relation between giving directions to a computer or robot and developing their own ability to follow directions and problem solve. They are building the “computer” that is their brain and the many connections and pathways that need to develop. The actual process of coding forces speedier thinkers, to slow down and think with accuracy and organization. They must designate a starting point and goal, with the specific steps in between.

An Example

A coding board I created inspired by LearningResources.com’s Code & Go Robot Mouse.

I was out of my element. After I practiced with the Code & Go Robot Mouse with a number of my students, and I got hooked. I saw how those who had difficulties engaging, were collaborating with me and other students in groups. This was a way in!

I needed to take it to the next level, to use this as an opening for discussion. I created the “Social Code” board to use in conjunction with the robot mouse. Students who were typically apprehensive to identify personal goals, eagerly mapped out steps to specific skills that we are targeting. The students added them to pockets on the board and mapped the way for the mouse to go from the “starting place” to the “destination.” They programmed the mouse to do an “action” (pause) at each skill it should use to get to the destination. The best part was watching my impulsive thinkers slow down and consider each step, reflecting on where things could be improved (the crux of executive function.) Neurons were firing and connecting. Oh, the beauty of myelination!

Generalizing Skills

Skills aren’t meant to be learned or used in isolation. To connect social skills sequencing and computer sequencing makes way for generalization into other areas of learning. If my students have strengths in technology, I want to meet them where they are to help them develop the skills they need in other areas, to prepare them for the future they imagine.

References:

Code & Go® Robot Mouse Activity Set. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://www.learningresources.com/product/learning essentials–8482- stem robot mouse coding activity set.do

Ragan, T. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://trainugly.com/

Sokoler, S. (2018, March 08). Why we should teach coding in elementary school. Retrieved May 13, 2019, from https://www.eschoolnews.com/2018/03/09/teach-coding-elementary-school/

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