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San Jose 1st graders learn code through teacher's revolutionary approach

San Jose teacher introduces coding to 1st grade class
San Jose teacher introduces coding to 1st grade class 04:12

SAN JOSE – A Silicon Valley teacher has seemingly cracked the code in teaching young children as young as seven, how to think like programmers or software engineers, by devising an approach that is believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

Lena Sugihara, a first grade teacher at Steindorf STEAM School in San Jose, blended computer artwork, storytelling, vocal performances, along with "block coding" in a six-month long project.

Sugihara, a 10-year veteran of the classroom, often explores new ways to engage her students and incorporate technology in her lessons, and impart "thinking tools" to help her students thrive in the real world.

"What do you do when you get stuck? What kind of strategies can we use, so that they feel like, 'I'm not stuck here forever?'" Sugihara explained to KPIX 5.

Sugihara began the process in the fall, and instructed the students to draft and illustrate a script about sea creatures displaying grit, patience, and perseverance, an approach to learning known as a "growth mindset."

"Encouraging. 'I can do this.' You never give up," explained Hailey Jeziorske, 7.

Using tablet computers, each student created digital versions of their characters, and recorded voice tracks for the lines from the story.

Sugihara brought all the visual and audio elements together in Scratch Junior, a block coding app, that allowed the students to manipulate the characters and audio, using an intuitive visual interface.

According to Sugihara, working in groups was key, serving as motivation for the students to lean on each other to troubleshoot problems and persevere when challenges arose.

"When you do something together, as a class or with your friends, you get to be like, 'I'm doing this, what do you think?' You get to bounce ideas off of each other. When you do this together as a class, it definitely helps them. They can go farther," said Sugihara.

The seven and eight-year-old students completed the Aquarium Project after working for nearly the entire school year.

Taking a cue from the immersive Van Gogh art exhibits currently touring the world, Sugihara used digital projectors to bathe viewers in the students' images, creating the illusion of being underwater with the characters.

 "They were like, 'Oh my gosh, we made all of this together, and that was truly magical," said Sugihara.

Mandy Jeziorske noticed a positive change in her daughter Hailey, as the project became more complex and involved, exceeding what many parents did during their time in first grade.

 "I think we were spending a lot of time on cursive, handwriting. Definitely not coding," Mandy Jeziorske said, with a chuckle.

Sugihara is now sharing her new method with teachers around the state, who are interested in replicating her success. Her suggestion: have a growth mindset.

"If you wanna do it, it could be really hard. But you can do it," said Sugihara.

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