First, you need two slices of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, a utensil for spreading each, and a plate. These are the ingredients and accessories needed to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Along with that, an order of operations is necessary. You need to grab a utensil before scooping out peanut butter from the jar. Every action, even making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has an order.
This past April, NYSCI’s Design Lab team trained more than 100 Explainers on how an order of operations is critical for making a PB&J sandwich, as well as for coding. Facilitators announced that they were a PB&J-making robot and the Explainers had to give instructions (code) to the robot (facilitator) to make the sandwich. Blushing, giggles and laughs ensued as the Explainers soon realized that being specific with their instructions was important in completing the task.
The Design Lab team made the connections on how specific instructions are important for sandwich making and coding. We scaffolded this connection using a Ted Talk video by MIT Professor Mitch Resnick titled “Let’s Teach Kids To Code.” Though this video was published in 2013, its words remain relevant: “There is no doubt that young people are very comfortable and familiar with browsing and chatting and texting and gaming, but that doesn’t make you fluent [with technology]. So young people today have a lot of experience, and lots of familiarity with interacting with new technology, but a lot less so of creating with new technologies and expressing themselves with new technologies. It’s almost as if they can read, but not write, with new technologies.” These words led to interesting conversations between facilitators and Explainers about how children and teens interact with technology.
In Design Lab, the design process is central to our philosophy. Many institutions have a different version of this process. Here at Design Lab our version is: Think, Build, Test, Repeat. To tie this philosophy into coding, we watched another clip from the same TED Talk. As students code in Scratch, they are “learning many different core principles of design, about how to experiment with new ideas, how to take complex ideas and break them down into simpler parts, How to collaborate with other people on your projects about how to find and fix bugs when things go wrong, how to keep persistent and persevere in the face of frustration when things aren’t working well. Those are important skills that aren’t just relevant for coding. They are relevant for all sorts of different activities.”
Now that we’ve tied coding, order of operation, and design thinking into our training, we helped the Explainers explore Scratch directly. We went over all the functions in Scratch with the Explainers. Facilitators had Explainers think creatively and design something fun that they would share with the rest of the people in their training groups, about three to eight per group. Small group sizes allow you to engage much deeper in questions, answers and conversation. Each Explainer, shown the same rules for Scratch, developed divergent solutions based on their interests. Some projects focused on motion, sounds and different narrative aspects. All of these projects were driven by their own imaginations and brought together by the foundation of coding. Now with a trained staff, who understand the importance of order of operations, design and creative freedom, we can help spread these ideas to our museum visitors.