Effective teachers know that when you teach something new, it's helpful to connect the new material to something that is known and familiar to students. For young children, what could be more familiar than a board game?
Samaira Mehta, an elementary school student with coder parents, has invented a board game, CoderBunnyz, to introduce coding fundamentals to other young children. She has been visiting public libraries and other venues in Silicon Valley to teach her board game to children. Her teaching has garnered attention from as far away as Germany, which covered her on television, and EdSurge, a well-respected website that covers education innovations.
Public Libraries as a Venue for Learning Coding Skills
I asked some of the librarians where Samaira has visited to describe her board game workshop. Erin M. Ulrich, program coordinator for youth services in the Santa Clara City Library, had this to say.
“Normally, there would be one parent at each table helping the kids with the game. Today, ALL of the parents wanted to be involved. It makes for such a meaningful experience when parents are connecting with their children, encouraging them, and learning with them. Everyone wins with this program. Since Samaira’s last visit, she has revised her presentation to include a segment from NBC Bay Area that she was featured in. Everyone enjoyed seeing her on television. Her energy is infectious. Here she is, an 8-year-old, presenting like an adult but bringing that youthful enthusiasm to the program. It’s such a treat to see her shine. Parents are always engaged by her, and the kids feel like she’s another classmate. She provides a great atmosphere for learning.”
At the Mountain View Public Library, Karin Bricker, library manager for youth and outreach services, said this.
“What a fun and educational program. We had our first CoderBunnyz event at the Mountain View Library last Saturday. The full house of kids, ages 4 to 8, had fun playing the game, and many of the parents jumped right in to help. Samaira is a most impressive 8-year-old. She conducted the game play training all by herself and walked around to each group several times to answer questions and offer guidance. At the end, players were invited to record the algorithm of their play. There was a way to do it simply (for the younger kids) and to write it out for the older ones. The game teaches the beginning skills of coding, including vocabulary, and offers levels of play so repeat players can advance. Samaira was inspiring as she showed everyone that even a very young coding enthusiast can make her dream a reality with very supportive parents, a key ingredient in the recipe.”
Public libraries are the perfect venue for the awakening of coding skills. After playing the CoderBunnyz board game, children might choose to move on to exploring ScratchJr on tablets provided by the library (see the recent book review video of The Official ScratchJr Book). Older children might jump straight into learning Scratch — or even Python. If a Raspberry Pi computer is within reach, some children might want to start programming that. Maybe some children might choose to build an affordable Trivia Vending Machine kit, modeled on the ingenious work from folks in the Dallas Makerspace (watch this video).
Children Surpass Our Expectations if We Let Them
At a meeting of children at CoderDojoDC two years ago, I watched an impressive presentation by a second-grader who explained about the Python computer programming project she was working on. Python is more typically taught at the high school level, so I almost fell off my chair when this student stood up to explain why she loves Python. The truth is that if we encourage our children to pursue their interests, we should not be surprised when they surpass what is “normal” for their age level.
When I first heard about Samaira using a board game to teach coding, I thought back to my own happy childhood experiences with board games. Coincidentally, a board game experience awakened my own mind in a way that I'll never forget. And I give due credit to Samaira's parents for their encouragement and support. Samaira is cut from the same cloth as youth inventor Jack Andraka, and Samaira's parents sound like they have a lot in common with Jack Andraka's mom, Jane.
Making Children into Agents of Positive Change in Their Community
Samaira's story resonates for me because she is an individual who has chosen an active, constructive role in the world. Many times children learn much better from other children than they do from adults. By modeling patient teaching methods, Samaira is making each one of the children she teaches into another young teacher. This action creates an ever-expanding ripple of teaching, learning, and curiosity. How magical that this all happens at a public library! We need to ask ourselves how we can we expand this kind of thing at public libraries around our nation and in other nations.
Staying in the Loop with Samaira's Ongoing Journey
To follow Samaira's ongoing journey, visit the CoderBunnyz Facebook page and her web site at http://www.coderbunnyz.com. Share her story with parents, teachers, librarians, and others you know. A better world is within reach, but only if we reach for it.
Images 1 and 2: Santa Clara Library
Image 3: CoderBunnyz