The primary focus of my research project was to study how the educational practices of Elemental improved or hindered oral literacy.
I observed workshops, spoke with students and asked them to present their projects.
It is impossible to generalize the workshops, since each one had a different group of students, ages, and number of participants. In the Scratch workshops with younger students, the activities offered little opportunity for collaboration between students at first. Once the students learned the basics, they were assigned the task of building a competitive game to play with other members in the classroom. In the minecraft workshop, which was a full class of 14 boys, there was always noise. The students seemed highly engaged and interested in the workshop. If they weren’t yelling out loud to get the instructor’s attention, they would be talking with their neighbors sharing their designs.
I think Elemental can explore more ways to engage their participants in peer-to-peer learning. Elemental is not teaching content that is only accessible through the instructor. Realistically, any student could watch youtube videos and learn these tools on their own. Elemental provides a shared learning space where participants can learn from others.
During the last robotics class, students were asked to present their work. Almost every student was working in a pair, which was great to see such active collaboration. When asked to present their robots, many students gave me a very basic description of their robots. Upon further probing about how they build the code (using S4A), only 3 of the 14 students explained the code using terms specific to programming, like functions and variables. This was a concern for me because Elemental was teaching students how to do these projects, but not so much to think about their projects. They advertise to parents and potential clients that the workshops teach the basics of programming, but the majority of the students couldn’t explain their projects using programming concepts. The more successful student who continues taking other workshops will be able to apply their basic knowledge from one class to the next.
These observations made me wonder: What role does Elemental have in educating students in knowledge outside of programming? The presentations are an opportunity for students to present and explain what they have been working on, but maybe Elemental can do more. As a nonformal education institution, there is not a necessity to assess participants on what content they mastered. At the same time, they might be responsible for improving socio-cultural collaboration between students and helping students better articulate and present their ideas. I think they are also responsible for helping students understand ways to connect and apply what they learn outside of Elemental. These workshops are out-of-context in that, once a student leaves the Elemental office, it’s unlikely that they will see or work with programming again in their daily lives. Elemental must make the content more relevant and connect what students learn to local, daily experiences.