Fail Better: Programming with Lightbot

Today’s Contributor: Jessica Trevino

My name is Jessica Trevino. I am the technology support specialist at Pickle Elementary. This is my second year in this position as well as my second year as Pickle’s CIC.

My favorite quote is by Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” The rest of the quote is as follows: “You won’t believe what you can accomplish by attempting the impossible with the courage to repeatedly fail better.” It shows that failure is not the end of something. We learn when we fail, so that when we try again and fail again, we are one step closer to succeeding.

I have always had an issue with Yoda’s quote of “Do or do not. There is no try.” How do you “do” if you do not “try”? Yoda, of course was trying to tell Luke to commit fully to his training and not give a half-hearted attempt in learning the Force, so, in this case, it makes sense. But when teaching young children how to do something- anything, not just computers- Yoda’s quote of not allowing for “try” does not benefit them. Try is failure and failure is not allowed. That’s also why I love Beckett’s quote.

I have a second grader named Angelica that follows Beckett’s quote even though she’s never heard of it. Her class comes to my computer lab every Tuesday for Hour of Code. They really enjoy and fully engage in playing the various games. Most of them play the Minecraft coding game or the Moana game. Angelica has really gotten into a game called Lightbot.

Lightbot is a coding game that teaches students to program/code by placing command icons rather than written commands to complete a coding sequence. The sequences that need to be completed are displayed as puzzles. So, even though the student is playing a game, they are still learning to program!

Lightbot’s website states that students also learn the following:

  • Sequential Control Flow: Commands get executed one after the other.
  • Procedures: Blocks of code for taking advantage of reusable patterns.
  • Loops: Blocks of code specifically used for patterns that repeat, or “loop.”
  • Debugging: Running and re-running a program, testing solutions, fixing mistakes.

Angelica’s teachers have spoken about how she has a natural curiosity for many things. She’s helpful to her teachers and the other students. When she’s doing something she enjoys, she is fully engaged in it.

When Angelica plays Lightbot, she works to figure out each puzzle on her own; creating a sequence of commands, testing it out, then going back to make changes before testing it again. She does this over and over until she completes the puzzle and moves on to the next level. She exhibits critical thinking and self-correcting skills, testing, changing, and testing again the choices that she made in the game. She does not rush through the levels in the game, sometimes sitting there looking at the layout and deciding how she can complete it. Then she will begin testing out her ideas.

When she does get stuck on a puzzle, she asks me for help. I have her show me what she has done so far, then I then make suggestions about what she can try and have her test them out. If it works, she continues on her own. If not, we work on the puzzle together until it is completed. What I found surprising was that she will not ask me to tell her what the answer is directly. She likes to find the answer on her own. She has a very good sense of self-correction and does not seem afraid to “get it wrong.” She sees it as trying again.

When asking about how she is in the classroom, Ms. Arrieta stated, “Angelica loves to help around the classroom. She enjoys being in charge of different things, as she has a desire to lead and to help. Angelica likes to be active, staying at her chair during activities that are difficult for her.”

I’ve seen this in the computer lab several times. When she’s not actively playing the game, she is going around the classroom helping other students who are also playing Lightbot. The second time her class came to the lab to do Hour of Code, she hardly played Lightbot. Instead she was going around the room showing her classmates the game and helping them through the first few levels, showing them how to place a few commands, test them, and make corrections. The third week, she and another girl were helping classmates, Angelica with Lightbot, and the other student with both Lightbot and the other “snap together” coding games. Their teacher was concerned that they were playing around, but after a few moments of watching them was pleased that they were helping the other students.

Ms. Arrieta continues, “I believe Angelica feels a certain sense of accomplishment and pride with technology, as it’s an area she KNOWS she enjoys and is good at.”

Angelica shows that she is very interested in computers. I have seen this in how she stays so focused in what she’s doing. I have seen this when she has helped classmates with understanding their coding game. It gets me thinking of other students who appear very timid when coding. Some students will place one block of code then look to me for confirmation that it’s the correct guess. They appear afraid to “get it wrong.” This displays a concern for not knowing the correct answer. They are timid about each choice they make. Angelica seems very confident in her abilities with the computer.

What makes them different from each other? If given time and encouragement, could these other students (girls especially) grow to be confident with their use of technology as well? The Tech world is, like many other fields, male dominated. That’s why it makes me so happy to see my female students eagerly engaging in technology. Perhaps with the right push, they can enter the technology field later in life confidently and enthusiastically.

What skills can they learn and use in life when learning to code? In reading, they learn sequencing by reading stories and retelling what they’ve read. This is the same with coding. Coding also encourages critical thinking. Critical thinking, by definition, is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” This is an important skill that students need for everyday life choices. Lastly, it teaches them not to be afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes are to be learned from, and finding solutions to those mistakes is key to being able to problem solve.

When I see Angelica choosing commands then testing them, making changes, and testing them again, I see her using critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are needed for her to grow. I see her trying. I see her getting a puzzle solution wrong. I see her try again. And each time she tries she gets closer to the solution to the puzzle. And honestly, I love it. So, I’m going to continue to encourage her to fail better. And if I can get others to learn that failing isn’t a bad thing, all the better.

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