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Learning the Algorithms of Kindergarten at Waxpool




It’s not a word you expect to hear in a kindergarten classroom.


Unless you’re at Waxpool Elementary…


“As a kindergarten teacher, I am responsible for building the foundation for deeper learning,” said Waxpool kindergarten teacher Natalie Walker. “We introduce computational thinking vocabulary, such as algorithm, in meaningful ways. For example, students understand that an algorithm is a step-by-step instruction. We introduce this concept in ways that are authentic to students’ lives; you follow a step-by-step routine when you brush your teeth, make a sandwich, purchase lunch at school, etc. This real-life application of tricky vocabulary builds a deeper understanding and paves the way for more abstract application in the future.” 


“I think the first step in getting a kindergartener to understand more complex concepts is to show them that you believe that they can, even though they are so young,” added Adelaide Segerdahl, who is teaching kindergarten down the hall from Walker. “To help the students grasp computational thinking concepts, I make sure that I explain it in kid-friendly language. For example, for an algorithm I teach it first as ‘step-by-step directions.’ Each time I give a set of directions, I try to use the word ‘algorithm’ instead. Soon enough, the students will start using the vocabulary themselves, and that’s awesome to see.” 


Walker and Segerdahl have been teaching students using both distance and hybrid learning. Through constant adjustments, they believe they are imparting the basic knowledge necessary for a successful school career.


Having only two days in person with our students certainly can be challenging,” said Walker. “Fortunately, we've been building a culture of computational thinking and project-based learning in our classroom since day one. Even in a virtual setting, students were introduced to the way we learn at Waxpool - the focus always has been on PBL (project-based learning) and CT (computational thinking). From the beginning of the school year, students solved authentic problems, were given voice and choice, and shared their learning via public products. Having this foundation and understanding of PBL and CT means that students are continuing this learning on their asynchronous days.” 


Principal Michael Pellegrino said Walker’s role as the kindergarten team’s lead teacher has been a key to keeping students on-task and involved. “Holding the team together, really doing a great job of keeping our hybrid and distance-learning teachers on the same page. We’re all the same unit, even though we’re in different places. She’s done a good job of keeping it together.”


“While the instructional model has changed for a couple of us who have transitioned to a hybrid setting, our singular goal has not; we will do whatever we can to support our students,” said Walker.


Walker also has invested time in building relationships. “I have worked to learn about students' interests and families, did lots of virtual lunch bunches and spent a great deal of time and effort simply learning about each of my students. Morning meeting is another important part of the day that has helped me get to know each of the students and build a positive class culture. Again, while the setting may have been different, a genuine curiosity and interest in building relationships with students will always be top priority.”


Walker said she was very happy to welcome students back into her classroom for hybrid instruction. “Every day is full of joy. I've loved listening to their unstructured conversations, imaginative play and giggles!”





Published November 20, 2020