Nina LaPlante

School: Bennett-Hemenway Elementary
Grade: 2nd
State: MA
Products: Creative Coding

Coding: It’s For Everyone

No Need to Be Intimidated

Bennett-Hemenway Elementary School in Natick, MA is a national leader when it comes to incorporating coding into its curriculum. That might seem like a lofty goal for your school — maybe even an unrealistic one. But according to teachers at Bennett-Hemenway, there’s no need to be intimidated.

“I think when you hear ‘coding,’ especially in my generation, [what you hear is] ‘I can’t do any of that. That’s way over my pay grade,’” said Nina LaPlante, a 2nd grade teacher. “But BrainPOP Jr.’s Creative Coding teaches a language called Scratch that kids and adults alike can pick up in minutes. On day one, the introductory animation does the hard part: teaching your students the basics and propelling them toward experimentation.

“It’s so little work for teachers up front,” Nina told us. “Even if you’ve never been exposed to any type of coding, you can follow along with Moby.”

Her job was to encourage her students to play and disrupt.

“Sometimes kids think that if you press the wrong thing, you’ll break it. I tell them ‘No no no! Just press it! See what happens! It can’t break! You can’t break it! By the end of the first lesson, the whole class was asking for more.”

“Even if you’ve never been exposed to any type of coding,
you can follow along with Moby.”

But Really…Who Has the Time?

Most teachers don’t have the luxury of devoting much class time to coding. The teachers at Bennett-Hemenway are no exception.

“We can’t do coding for coding’s sake,” Nina told us. “I’d love to, but we can’t. I have so much curriculum that I have to cover. My lessons on coding alone had to end after that initial introduction.”

For Nina and her peers, the solution is to integrate coding into units throughout the year. Nina began by incorporating coding into a unit on map skills.

“We used BrainPOP movies to introduce that unit, and as a final exercise I let the kids demonstrate their learning through code. They built projects where the user could click on a sprite or a button and it would teach a map skill, like understanding a compass rose.”

The kids picked up right where they’d left off, using their newfound coding skills to impress Nina — and their classmates. Nina was delighted to see her students teaching each other, praising each other, and showing off.

“In the next unit, their coding improved, of course, but so did their comprehension of the  material. They were learning from one another. They were wow-ing one another. They were saying to each other ‘Oh! How did you do that? Show me that!’

Diverse Learners Demand Diverse Approaches

Nina has spent her whole life trying to understand how kids learn.

“My mom always had a way with kids and I never understood her secret. I was always more logical, more science-based. So I always looked for the science behind the way kids think and learn.”

She’s seen first hand how coding can transform the way her students demonstrate their understanding.

“We have to understand that every teacher has a diverse population of learners in front of them, and a lot of classroom practices are still very traditional. Every teacher has students who know the material but can’t write about it. Many of them will be much better able to express their learning through coding than with a pen and paper.

For Nina and others like her, coding in the classroom is a natural step forward.

“The world our students will enter is going to require collaboration and creativity from them every day. We need classroom activities that reflect their future.”