Building a Foundation

Our second and third grade students at Fairview Elementary’s Programming Club are having a blast learning more about computer programming. We have been using the curriculum from’s 20 Hour Courses. As most of our students are at or below grade level with reading (and they are just little guys – 7 or 8 years old), our students are working through the concepts in Course 1. Course 1 uses fun characters like bees, zombies, and Angry Birds to teach students the basics of looping, events, conditionals, and other computer science concepts. Along with those online components, there are some “unplugged” activities where students get off the computer and interact with some materials hands on.

Last week, we wanted to remind students of the importance of persistence. This is obviously an important skill students should practice in all challenging tasks and it’s often difficult to teach it. It’s especially crucial in an area like computer science, where it is often the figuring out, changing a couple of things, testing and trying again, before you finally reach success. It can be easy to give up, which is why we must create tasks that are appealing enough for students to want to figure it out, but challenging enough that they learn how to work through those areas of discomfort. That’s why I love the curriculum from; it is engaging and cyclical.

For our unplugged lesson, students were given a set of gumdrops, some toothpicks, and a small 6 oz. cup. Their goal was to create a structure that was at least as tall as the cup and would hold the weight of a book (a regular-sized novel) for 10 seconds. They could only use the materials provided. IMG_4466

Before we gave the students their materials, we asked them to spend some time and individually draw a model of their design. Then, each person shared their design idea with their group members. Lastly, the group decided on the best design together.


Then, students were ready to build!


Some groups were successful on their very first try. Others had to continue to problem-solve and come up with alternative designs.


Happy and successful foundation builders!



First (and second) try was a failure!


It’s working!

We gave the students about 20 minutes for this lesson – from individual design time to group building and testing. Once the time was up (and sticky hands washed), we debriefed. Students shared what was challenging about the project. This included things like needing more materials or not being able to communicate effectively with their group. Another challenge was coming up with a different design once their first design didn’t work. Students were reluctant to change too much of their original design rather than mimic what other groups were doing with success.

Some things students enjoyed was testing out different configurations – if they made their structure taller would it hold a book? If they made it wider, could it hold a heavier book?

This was a fun unplugged activity that could easily be implemented in any classroom. It would be a great icebreaker activity at the beginning of a school year or semester. Most of the schools I support are STEM and STEAM schools; this would be fun for a parent night. You could use straws and marshmallows, too.

Your turn! What team building activities do you do to teach the importance of persistence? 

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