One More Thing

Code Breaker Guest Blog
by Beth Smith

“I don’t have time for one more thing.”

I remember thinking and saying those exact words when technology integration was brought up in our district years ago. So I played the game. I borrowed the district BeeBots, did fun activities in Seesaw, used various apps at the suggestion of others, let kids play games on the iPad, but none of that was TRUE integration. All the technology I “used” just provided stand alone events and did not represent true learning. Fun? Yes. Meaningful? No. Then COVID hit and thrusted me into integration. 

Over the past three years, Seesaw has become part of our daily routine, so much so that we (my teaching partner and I) were asked to present at the Iowa Technology & Education Connection (ITEC) Conference this past November. While attending the conference, I sat in on many different sessions listening to speaker after speaker talking about coding and how to use it in the classroom and once again I found myself saying “I don’t have time for one more thing!” Then a group of teachers from Northeast Iowa said, “Think about those ‘down’ times in your school year, for example before break or end of the trimester.” I left them and went to see Daphne McMenemy and listened to her story about Gracie. I immediately went to and looked for resources – the end of trimester 1 was coming up after all and I would have some “down” time. A week later I was teaching my first three coding lessons that I found on that required no technology at that point. I was unsure of how my kindergarten students would take to this new learning and how much support they would need, as I was learning along with them! They took to it like ducks to water. I was blown away. My kids who typically sit quietly and passive were more actively engaged than I have ever seen before. The kids who have been targeted for intervention outshined some of their peers and my kids supported by our talented and gifted (TAG) teachers found frustration and had to learn about flexible thinking. To “see” their brains thinking and become active participants in their learning reignited my passion for teaching. 

I am once again overly excited to come to work and see what my students will learn today through the lens of coding.  So where are we now after those three no-tech lessons? We have 6 blank BeeBot coding mats, 2 letter mats, 2 math mats, 10 BeeBots (checked out from the district) and 1 TuffBot. We are not just learning to code, we are coding to learn. We are using code to learn about shapes, sight words, letter sounds, letter names, and cooperative games. Learning to code and coding to learn has enhanced our learning, AND this is only 1 month in….I cannot wait to see where we are in another month, at the end of the year, and where I will be next year as an educator!


Beth Smith is a kindergarten teacher for the Lewis Central Community School District in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She is in her seventeenth year as an employee with Lewis Central and her thirtieth year attending, as it is also her alma mater. Beth holds a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and reading endorsement from Iowa State University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane University. She was the recipient of the H.H. “Red” and Ruth H. Nelson Excellence in Teaching Award in 2012. Beth is always looking for ways to maximize her instruction in ways that best engages the learners in her class.

Computational Thinking: The Next C

“Even the classic acts of solving puzzles or sorting and stacking blocks systematically builds CT skills and agency in solving problems with independence.” 

Code Breaker Guest Blog
by Jed Stefanowicz

Computational thinking (CT) is a critical classroom competency. Competency refers to the ability to apply skills, knowledge, or understanding to perform a task or accomplish a goal. As the tasks and goals of our students’ (and our own) daily lives continue to become more complex, developing computational thinking skills will be essential to applying those skills, knowledge, and understandings. Competency is demonstrated when contextual comprehension is transferred from understanding to action. 

In its simplest form, CT is a problem-solving process. Complex tasks are broken down, patterns are constructed, algorithms may be applied, and innovation is encouraged. Often computer science is integrated into the problem-solving process. To equip our students for their future, computational thinking is as essential as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity (the traditional 4 Cs). If you ask me, computational thinking is the next C. 

Computational thinking is often strongly linked to computing, but makerspace creations or STEM challenges like paper clip chains or index card towers also require the analytical and creative design thinking and engineering mojo that CT represents to me. CT does not land fully under the traditional view of computer science, programming, or even devices at all. There’s a reason coding clubs and platforms balance their courses with awesome “unplugged” activities, in which (for example), students pace out a room to “code” their movement to make a physical connection with computational thinking—analog style!

Computational thinking is a critical classroom competency, and all students deserve a basic fluency in coding as a new literacy to connect with their world.

When students program and code their own robots, games, dances, or stories, educators see a tangible application of ideas, critical thinking, and self-expression. They practice authentic and immediate understanding of cause and effect, resiliency, and iterative practice in order to complete their projects, not our assignments. Watching students create with CT provides an immediate glimpse into their understanding, creativity, and computational thinking as they simultaneously program and problem-solve. Accessibility is always key, and even our youngest learners can code through block and visually-based platforms.

Where digital learning can broadly encompass pedagogy and practice, computational thinking attempts to label cognitive processes and thinking skills. With or without tech, we can begin to build CT awareness and connections to even our youngest students’ lives by identifying patterns and routines, as well as applying problem-solving strategies to complete tasks. Educators can create and identify algorithms across content areas to problem-solve, sequence thinking, and simply create. 

It’s  impactful to have explicit conversations with students (even early elementary students) about the distinction and relationship between computational thinking and coding. Creating classroom activities that clearly exercise both skills provides the opportunity to pause and identify each. 

Even the classic acts of solving puzzles or sorting and stacking blocks systematically builds CT skills and agency in solving problems with independence. Classic board games that require sequence, strategy, logical reasoning, or algorithmic thinking add context for students’ understanding of computational thinking beyond coding tasks. Exploring and identifying how parts of a system, game, program, or product relate, connect, and combine builds foundational concepts for later computational thinking construction. 

Where does computational thinking fit into the general education classroom? Tech coaches and specialists are often asked, “How/where does this fit into the curriculum?” My reply? It is the curriculum. Whether or not a district has articulated or adopted learning standards such as the ISTE Computational Thinking Competencies, CT is a scaffolded process of learning that is a whole lot more than something extra, tech-time, or the one-off robot visit. It’s the bridge that connects students’ understanding of the tool they are using now to how they will use tools going forward. 

It’s something different, and it’s for everyone.

As a Digital Learning Coach in Walpole, Massachusetts, Jed Stefanowicz provides job-embedded professional development and instructional coaching for academic technology. Through conferences, workshops, and coaching, Jed aims to engage and build staff/student digital learning capacity, keeping the focus on practice over product. As a 25 year elementary educator, speaker, blogger, and former Massachusetts Teach Plus Policy Fellow, Jed shares his passion for effective tech integration to transform teaching and learning, creating engaging and equitable digital learning environments and experiences that activate, innovate, and motivate digital learning. He is the author of Take AIM at Digital Learning: Activate, Innovate, Motivate, and Impact to Influence.

On the Blog…March 2022

“We don’t need school;
we just need learning.” 

For far too long, school and learning have been disconnected from each other, when exactly the opposite should be true. There are many many threads we could pull on to unravel the foundation and reset the system. The key thread? Assessment and Evaluation. Upon close inspection, the foundation of our system is closely linked to our beliefs about assessment and evaluation. This tightly woven thread holds learning captive as we try to shift our thoughts about learning without braving the necessary change in assessment and feedback practices. It can be hard to know where the starting line is.  This book is a primer for starting to unravel assessment and evaluation and starting a journey towards free and open learning within your classroom. Look for Melissa Dean’s Unravel School coming to our Code Breaker library this month.

March Guest Blogger: Melissa Dean 

The Problem with 100%

One day a past principal of mine asked me, mid-conversation, if I thought it was possible for a student to get 100% in my class. I said no. He asked me to explain myself. I was still relatively new in my teaching career and I had strong convictions about grades and 100% as a final grade in a class or, to be honest, on a test or an assignment. 100%, particularly as a final grade, seems to imply that there is no more learning to be done. Can we really say this about a student? Even in a discipline like math that, in the minds of many, is cut and dry, black and white? This was, in essence, my response to my principal. His response is something I’ve never forgotten — “Why are we holding kids to an impossible standard then?” Touché, Mr. Matt, touché.

But, really, are we holding kids to a standard that we also don’t think or want them to really meet? There are so many things to think about with this. I still hold pretty strongly to the conviction that 100% as a final grade in a class is not a thing that is really valid. To start with, there’s the issue with how grades are determined. There are a whole lot of grades that are determined by weights, and averages and calculations done by a computer program. If there is one thing I’d like to say louder for the people in the back it’s this: GRADES SHOULD NEVER BE DETERMINED BY AVERAGING A BUNCH OF SCORES TOGETHER. #shoutycapsforemphasis

So, how should grades be calculated then? This, friends, is one of the holy grails of education, in any discipline. I mean, to be honest, I want my answer to be, they shouldn’t be. Grades just shouldn’t be calculated period, because grades are a false construct. If we’re honest with ourselves, and I hope that we are, those numbers don’t really mean what we think they mean, and they certainly don’t mean what our students think they mean. Our reality, however, is that we must assign grades, so if we’re going to have to do something, we might as well do it well. If we’re going to do it well, we need to know what it is those numbers are supposed to represent.

Why do we assess in the first place?

To tackle this question, we need to come back to the purpose of assessment (of, as, and for learning). After any assessment, our learners should be able to answer three questions: What do I know right now? What do I need to know next? How am I going to get there? 56/60 on the top of a page doesn’t answer any of those questions. And 60/60 doesn’t either. It really doesn’t tell you as the lead learner in the room all that much either.

I’ve gone on a tangent, so let’s come back to that notion of 100% for a moment. What does it mean? If a student sees 100% on a test, what does that mean? Does it mean that they have mastered that content? That outcome? Maybe — it really depends on what kinds of questions they were being asked. If those questions are all basic expectations based on memorized procedural understanding, well, then that 100% means that they have memorized the steps, but they may have no actual concept of what was being learned. Conversely, a score of 45% might mean that student didn’t understand the concept, or it might mean that the student answered the questions in a way that didn’t match the predetermined answer key. How will we know for sure? Conversation. Observation. And a carefully curated body of evidence of that student’s learning journey.

If we tell a student that their grade is 100%, what are we telling them? Well, they see 100% and think, I’m done here. My learning has ended. Any number tells them that — learning doesn’t continue based on the number. And if they get 100% as a final evaluation, does that tell them that they have learned all there is to know? I would argue there is always more learning to be done. We can always refine and grow and develop as a communicator, collaborator, and a conjecturer. That is what mathematics is really about. It’s what all learning is about.

We want marking to be cut and dry. It’s not. Learning isn’t cut and dry. A student’s journey to learning isn’t straight. It’s not perfect. There are curves, and detours, and mistakes, and traumas that send averages off course. An average of a bunch of numbers, even all good numbers, isn’t the whole picture. There is more to know, and more to see. And we never want a student to end their learning. No number on a page should have that impact. We must carefully consider what messages our numbers are sending.