Diversity & Inclusion
Education / STEM / Youth

Colleen Hoban is teaching second graders how to code

Coding teaches “perseverance and grit,” says the Tatnall School technology teacher.

Students in Colleen Hoban's class coding Scratch Jr. from underneath the computer lab tables (Photo courtesy of Colleen Hoban)

Colleen Hoban knows how to code, and she’s passing along the skillset to the elementary school students at Tatnall School. Hoban is the technology teacher at the private K-12 school in Wilmington and a strong proponent of the idea that technology isn’t just about computers — it encompasses robotics, iPads, coding and more.
We spoke with Colleen about her experiences in teaching technology to such young students, how to get them involved and why it matters.

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How are you incorporating tech into your classroom?
As a tech teacher I use it all the time. But in the lower school, I try to integrate it with things kids are already doing in the other classrooms. I’m teaching the second graders to code and we’re using Scratch Jr. They have to create a coding project based around their study of Chinese culture in social studies classes. It’s about finding things they’re doing in the classroom and integrating them.
For the uninitiated, what’s Scratch Jr.?
Scratch Jr. is block-based coding. The kids drop and drag the blocks. It’s a great beginning tool for students to learn how to code.
We also have 10 robotic finches from [Pittsburgh-based] Bird Brain Tech, and the challenge is to code each finch to draw circle, travel a triangle, adding different challenges as [the students] go through.
Why teach coding at such a young age?
We have Dash and Dot, two robots great for teaching coding. We also have a “lunch bunch club” where the young students learn how to code Dash and Dot and the collaboration part is huge. It’s always in groups of at least two students so they can problem solve together. I think coding is great because it’s teaching a great life lesson. You don’t get it on the first try. You have to try again and again and it teaches perseverance and grit. Those are soft skills for life.
How might creating tech-savvy students help them be successful in their future careers?
It’s important for them to be exposed to tech and understand it. The language of coding is continuously changing. There’s Java, Python — all those different types. But being exposed to it so that when they go out in a real world experience, they’ve seen all those platforms and they’ll be able to navigate through that.
How can teachers inspire more girls and minorities to engage in coding and other technological practices?
I think access. Giving them the opportunity to try things out. I know with coding in particular, I’ll hear girls say “I’m not good at math” or “It’s not my thing,” but then they realize it’s fun and that they are good at it. It’s just about exposure.

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