Pair Programming Power

In the 21st century teaching has morphed into an absolutely wonderful, collaborative adventure. As a computer teacher I sought to ride this active revolution and create collaborative activities for my classroom. I wanted to change the norm of students working independently, sometimes passively on their computers. I wanted active students pointing at screens, discussing their work and being as engaged with each other and their group’s learning as they were with their own.

I implemented various methods into my curriculum, pair programming being one of them. This method is where one student acts as driver and has control over the mouse and keyboard, while the partner is the navigator and guides their partner and helps look out for syntax errors in the code. It doesn’t matter which partner has which role since every 2 minutes I ring a bell and the partners must switch roles. The method has students discuss their programming, which helps students with new vocabulary as they articulate ideas of code. Stronger students must articulate their ideas for struggling students and struggling students have a partner to guide them through the activities. Sometimes I pair higher students together to see what they come up with, it allows me more time with other students who may need more support. At these times, I pair students who need extra help together, so they are forced to figure out the concepts together as I monitor their learning and provide extra support.

To make pair programming work, first come up with a challenge that requires thought and/or creativity. They need something to discuss and figure out. As an example I had students create a program where they had to write a function which repeated 3 times. Students used the Karel the Dog program from codehs. They were expected to be creative with their program and students made mazes, some spelled out words like Karel in their axe. One team had Karel pick up Easter eggs since it was spring and another had UberKarel pick up passengers and take them to the movies. It’s quite amazing what kids can come up with when just told to be creative.

Have students talk out their ideas first before being allowed to code on the computer. I freeze their computer screens and students have paper in front of them to create on paper their idea and their code. After 8 to 10 minutes, the computers are unlocked and students gather around one computer to code.

Every 2 minutes the bell rings and students switch off between the roles of Navigator and Driver. If you were a fly on the wall you would see students pointing to screens, talking, and when hearing the bell physically switching seats with their partner. During this time, I travel from group to group checking in with their process and monitoring the activity.

A 7th grade student commented on the activity, “I had a fun time getting to create our own code and solve it in a fast amount of time. I like having to switch every two minutes as well so it does not feel as though one is doing all the work. I am also glad we got to collaborate on ideas with our partners and develop team work strategies.”

Another said, “Usually I don’t like working in pairs because the other student ends up taking over because I am shy. This way keeps it even because of the switching of roles.”


Categories: Coding

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