How daily coding puzzles with constant feedback can be a useful tool to help students master text-based languages.
One of the factors that make puzzle-like challenges effective is consistent and predictable feedback. In his seminal book on decision making, Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman makes the case that people who seem to have mastered a skill and operate seemingly on intuition got there through repetition. However, Kahneman also makes the claim that another important factor in developing intuition is consistently predictable feedback. The faster and more consistent the feedback, the better it can nudge a student towards mastery.
Unlike a typo in an essay, which can take a week or more to be returned to a student, an error message thrown by a programming language gives swift feedback. However, if a program gets too large, a student can find themselves well into the weeds before learning basic skills. Short online challenges are the right fit for my young learners because they don’t allow the student to get too far ahead before providing feedback.
As a teacher, I have to also be cautious in how I deal with students who begin to feel defeated. The goal is to have them struggle, but also feel that the task is not outside their capability. This is where the students guiding each other comes in. As students begin to pool information, I remind them that I encourage helping, but not plagiarizing. If they are helping a friend through writing a tough function, they have to explain why the answer works. I also frequently find myself sitting with a student asking some very leading questions, but always stopping short of solving it for them. At the end of the day, if a student tried but came up short, very frequently they return the next day more determined.
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