Monday, 15 December 2014

Pair Programming: The Power of Collaborative Learning

When exploring computer science and coding in the classroom pair programming can be a powerful strategy for all learners. Students bring their strengths to the partnership and help each other learn. Together they build problem solving, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills. As students learn to code, bursts of excitement and frustration become opportunities for perseverance and creativity.

In many classrooms during the Hour of Code, we borrowed from the Pair Programming strategy and had students work together at one computer. Students formed a partnership with a “driver” that controlled the mouse and keyboard while a “navigator” made suggestions, searched for errors, and asked questions. The partners switched roles back and forth during the coding activity (and we set a timer to remind us when to switch). This required fewer devices and allowed us to engage all of the students in the classroom at one time.

As students worked together on solving the coding puzzles we encouraged them to talk through the tasks, ask each other questions and discuss the feedback from the program. This helped students to break the problem down into smaller more manageable pieces. It was amazing to listen and learn along side the students as they justified their solutions to each other. 

At the end of the hour, when I asked students to reflect on their learning they talked with great enthusiasm about how they were able to solve the puzzles.Then I asked about how they felt and what they did when their code didn’t work. One student told me that he felt mad but then his partner suggested (based on reading the feedback) that they try the repeat block. The pair looked for a pattern and then further applied their mathematics knowledge and understanding of multiplication using a repeat loop to solve the puzzle. 

Not every pair of students worked as cooperatively during the coding task but it was an authentic way for students to use and develop their collaborative skills. Also, it provides the opportunity for conversation and reflection around learning together.