cracking the {code}
Programming Prototypes: Student Collaboration in a 1:1 Environment
collaboration, ed tech, STEAM, teachers

Collaboration is considered an essential 21st century skill, since it builds students’ ability to communicate, deal with conflict, and solve problems. While small group projects, think-pair-shares, and turn and talks are commonplace in schools, teachers often struggle to integrate similar practices into projects revolving around technology - for example in computer science classes.

One of our favorite approaches to collaboration during tech projects is prototyping, where students work together to design and iterate upon a solution. This is also known as the design-thinking process. 

The Basics of Prototyping

We suggest starting coding activities with students first learning how to code for the solution and then giving students time to discuss how to design it. In short, they should use previous knowledge and new coding skills to design an implementation strategy. Once a strategy is set, it’s time to prototype! This prototype can take many forms – a diagram, drawing, initial program, etc. Prototypes allow students to user-test their designs before it becomes too difficult pivot.

This feedback process doesn’t just teach students coding and interpersonal skills - it also empowers students to create a better solution.

How Prototyping Builds Coding Skills.
  • A defined process. Finding and refining a go-to process is vital to gaining expertise in coding (or really any skill). This prototyping process – especially as one part of an overarching design-thinking method – provides a framework for kids and teens that they can use for every project they take on.

  • Programming expertise. By playing the role of user for others, students expand and deepen their coding expertise. They are learning from others with more coding experience and incorporating this new knowledge to make their product better and more efficient.

  • UX and design intuition. This user experience pushes students to look at others' work in a holistic and objective way, analyzing both design and efficiency. Seeing what they like and don’t like from a user’s standpoint helps students refine their ability to empathize with the end user during their design process. This skill helps students to create better products in the future, even if they don’t have access to a huge quantity of user feedback.

How Prototyping Builds Interpersonal Skills.
  • Giving critiques. This process revolves around feedback and providing it in a constructive manner. Students learn to pair criticism with helpful alternates, while learning how to provide feedback in a genuine, positive manner.

  • Receiving critiques. Students also learn to take constructive criticism and incorporate it back into their project. This can be hard even for adults, so through this process students learn to actively and respectfully listen to others feedback – while also understanding when to trust their gut.

  • Growth Mindset. This process helps kids embrace challenges and get comfortable with making mistakes. It encourages them to collaborate with others and ask for feedback and advice, and it introduces a healthy method of comparing one’s own work with others’ projects.

Overall, the prototyping process spurs student engagement and drives coding achievement, which is integral to building 21st century skills. For more information about prototyping and how you can use it in your computer science or STEM courses, reach out to us at!

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