Making Space for Creativity in Online Learning! Thoughts from an Educator

Coding, games, and virtual learning seem like the perfect fit. In a lot of ways they are! Most coders have played video games and are able to generate ideas easily; the enthusiasm to create one of their own programs is high. But it is this abundance of ideas and enthusiasm, my friends, that morphs the perfect match into a bit of a tricky situation (hopefully more for us teachers than our budding coders). Let me explain... Typically, we teachers are thrilled to see our students run wild with creativity! But the thing is, it’s really difficult to let new coders run with their ideas when we can’t sit with them and look at their code, ask specific questions, lead them down the particular problem-solving path they need to bring their vision to animated life.  

Part of teaching online is being able to anticipate all the obstacles your coders might come up against. Creativity really opens the door to, well, so many potential obstacles.

Photo (above): A throwback to our board game making camp in 2019 where we were able to teach and help kids in-person!

Back in March when Little Robot Friends said, “Hey, we want to try and run our classes online and see how it goes. You in?” We knew that when we said yes, exploration and testing would follow because we’re pretty much always trying to find the most fun, most effective way to engage kiddos with tech. We ran a pilot program with some young coders we knew from past workshops at Little Robot Friends HQ. We worked really hard on pacing, clear instruction, and engagement. Honestly, I feel like we were pretty successful in finding the best way for us to teach coding online. But, one of the things we discovered was that more structure resulted in a smoother, less frustrating online experience. Part of teaching online is being able to anticipate all the obstacles your coders might come up against. Creativity really opens the door to, well, so many potential obstacles. So, for me, Game Makers isn’t what it would be if we could be in the same space with our coders (but what really is the same during this pandemic?).

Some shifting and reframing may be required but ultimately, young creative thinkers will find ways to get their ideas out into the world and share them with others.

Image (above): Capture the Flag game coded by one of our virtual campers! Play the game here: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/416205035/

That said, our coders embraced the conditions and, as per usual, surprised us with their creativity! Yes, we coded prescribed games like Hide-and-Seek, Tag, and Capture the Flag. And yes, they learned important coding concepts like events, variables, loops and broadcasting. Of course, they were proud of their projects. But we really got to see them get creative with their STEAM box activity! For Game Makers Camp, coders received a STEAM box from Little Robot Friends packed with all the materials you might need to create your own good ‘ol, low tech board game (equipped with materials to make a tile that lights up, of course). As educators (possibly feeling guilty that we were squashing creative coding adventures with too much structure), we carved out space to really talk about our board games. And wouldn’t you know it, our campers let those creative impulses loose! They made the neatest looking board designs and the most delightful player pieces. Even better? When one or two campers proudly presented their work, the others were motivated to up their game (pun totally intended). We got to see - even in this online environment, kids inspiring kids. Which is obviously the best.  


Photo (above): One of our virtual campers making his board game at home!

Who knows what learning is going to look like for kiddos a month from now. I certainly don’t. But I do know that all the things I love about teaching can still take place. Some shifting and reframing may be required but ultimately, young creative thinkers will find ways to get their ideas out into the world and share them with others.

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This blog post is written by Michelle Mismash. She is our Summer Camp educator and has been a teacher for over 12 years. Michelle has lived all over the place, teaching everything from phonics to woodworking. When she's not making friends with little robots, she uses her OCT credentials to teach for the Toronto District School Board. Michelle also has three cats and too many plants to count!