Guest blog with Ashley Lillard, Thurmont Primary Teacher and FCPS Teacher of the Year Finalist

Posted on: Thu, 08/06/2020 - 07:00

I did it! I have a bug. I’ll try again!

One may hear these phrases when stepping in to the Thurmont Primary School (TPS) Robotics Lab. The skills that are ascertained through computer science lessons are necessary to succeed in life, so why not begin to teach these skills to young students who are risk-takers, eager to learn? They are the perfect computer science students!  

Last year, we opened our grant-funded TPS Robotics Lab, thanks to the generosity of the Battelle National Biodefense Institute (BNBI). We collectively focused on the Maryland Computer Science Standards and began by teaching a programming language and skills through hands-on experiences. We immediately saw that students at all levels and from all backgrounds were engaged and enthusiastic about learning. Our rigorous lessons encouraged them to be independent problem solvers, and they rose to the challenge. When given the opportunity to take leadership roles, such as “robotics engineer,” students took control!   

We learned that computer science builds upon skills that students need to be successful in other content areas and in the real world. When students took the lead as the engineer, they also needed to function as a collaborative team member, utilizing strong communication skills. Our students were seamlessly integrating math and language arts skills into computer programming, effortlessly using the Standards for Mathematical Practice and skills such as sequencing.  

We experienced failure in the lab as well, and we learned how failure is positive. Our kindergarten students became excited even when their algorithm failed, and they would shout out: “I have a bug in my program!” Our lab fosters an environment where failure means that you are growing your brain, you are one step closer to success, and you’ve been given a chance to persevere. That’s a pretty amazing mindset for a young child to have. Computer science teaches our children that in order to succeed, you need to fail and learn from your mistakes.

The Robotics Lab has taught teachers and students alike to maintain a growth mindset, to persevere, to collaborate as a team player, to be precise, to communicate scientifically, to critique the thinking of others, and so much more. These skills can only be learned through experiences. By teaching computer science standards, we are equipping our students with the tools that they need to be successful in and out of the classroom. It isn’t “just one more thing” to teach, it is “the” thing to teach.