Teaching Python

We're two middle school teachers learning and teaching Python

You might be teaching a 6th grader...

I have been teaching 6th graders for a while now, but last year I started teaching 6th graders how to code. And what an experience!

Most of our students come from 5th grade where they use Chromebooks and in the Middle School students the students switch to using Macbooks for class. This is a big step for our 6th graders and for many, this is their first computer.

After teaching eight classes in a single year, there are a few easily identified and almost impossible to omit concepts that always make my coding instruction a little more challenging but funny!

I decided to write a list in a Jeff Foxworthy fashion, titled, “You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…” Enjoy!

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…...your students ask, “Excuse me, what's an application and how do you install it?”

Every quarter I help students install an editor from the internet and it is an hour long process! Explaining that an application is an app is a whole other conversation in itself. Privacy and Security settings, moving the application into the application folder, and many more topics happen after this question. I could avoid this lesson and download the apps for them, but the learning from this skill is a very important skill that students need to have to navigate their new computers.

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if...your students have twelve versions of the Mu editor installed in their downloads.

After installing the python editor, students either see the file in downloads or are still click on the .dmg file on their desktop to launch the 'already' installed program, thus installing multiple versions every class! There always seems to be a rogue dmg file that they have downloaded and I missed, but they always find it and launch another copy of Mu!

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…your students are always claiming that “it's broken! ”

This is a complex situation from the start, but after a little deliberation, we identify the real problem. The "editor is broken and it won’t save files." After downloading, students either forget to install the application by moving into the Applications folder or forget to delete the extra files of the newly installed program hanging out in various locations on their computer and, thus the program is not happy. CMD + Delete is my friend and I try to teach them that it can be there friend too!

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…your response to the question, “my file is gone” is a slightly sarcastic question “Did you save it?”

Students coming from a Chromebook experience are in the habit of using the awesome Google Drive features. The ‘automatic save’ even when it is an ‘Untitled document ’ can be a hard habit to break. I am always reminding students that they need to save their files, and more importantly name the file!

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…...a normal response from you, the teacher is a very mom-like, “I don’t know where your file is, it is not my computer! Where did you last see it?" (Insert the 'I don't know where your shoes are look.')

As avid Google Drive user, 6th graders use of folders and storage is limited to making new folders in their Drive. The concept of moving the documents to a Drive folder is sporadic to say the least. Therefore, saving files on a device is often a new experience for our kiddos. I need to show students that files are stored in directories on their computer and there is a pathway to their files. Knowing where you save files is a must when working with editors and python files.

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…"yes, it is okay to exit out of Mu" is a mantra that you say at the end of every class."

In this century, the idea of always on or plugged in is the norm. Teaching your students that it is okay to close down or shut down applications and their computer. And "yes, it is okay to close the application and "yes, your files will stay on your computer if you saved them correctly” are statements I hear in my sleep.

.“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…a common file name for your students is, thingy.py, supcode2.py, 1.py or ajefhkaehrihroe.py

Yes as a 6th grade teacher, actively checking in on how your students name their files is a thing. Not because teaching nomenclature is a highlight of 6th grade, but because it persists into adulthood. For my sanity, I attempt to help students name files appropriately, so that we can locate their file later.

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…you wear a magician hat and wow your audience with super cool editor and computer shortcuts!

In the Mu editor, I love to use CMD+K or CMD+D or CMD+X and your students say, “Wow! How did you do that?” or “Oh my gosh, how did you type that so fast?” Teaching shortcuts whether coding or not can help your 6th graders learn to be more efficient. And sharing one or two shortcuts a week really can help the students learn, use and remember them.

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…you have to say more than once in a 10 minute span of time, “When is the last time you shut down your computer?”

Yeah, what else can I say except yes, student’s never shut their computers down and yes they do not know how to shut down applications or force quit their computers when they write a very effective while loop. Other questions often asked are “Do you know how to use ‘Force Quit’” or “Are you connected to wifi?” Teaching simple troubleshooting techniques can save you a lot of time and headaches in the future.

“You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…“how do I write a variable named guest_name and then ask the end user what their name is and then print it out”? is an actual Google search done by a 6th grader this year. (No lie!)

Google like a Pro was a super course I took many years ago and although I do not teach all the skills, I do teach some! Another mantra I use daily is, "Great coders no how to Google!" I model how to search for topics or words that 'we' do not know or understand and we discuss how to break down these topics into smaller, easier to search concepts and words.

In all seriousness, although 6th graders are needy, young and inexperienced computer users, teaching them to code is a very rewarding experience. Enjoy the laughs and make your own list of “You might be teaching a 6th grader how to code, if…”