Author Archives: Christa Love

Christa Love

About Christa Love

Christa Love, Vice President - Christa Love has a passion for education and technology. A graduate from Brock University she has an Honors Bachelor of Arts in Child Development, Bachelor of Education in Primary and Junior divisions, and Masters of Education in the area of Curriculum Studies. Her work at TechnoKids Inc. began more than twenty years ago as an instructor at a local learning center. Since that time she has operated the summer camp program, taught at the research and development center at John Knox Christian School, trained educators throughout the province on issues related to technology integration, and overseen the curriculum development of hundreds of technology projects. In recent years, Christa has become the vice president of TechnoKids Inc.

Teach Debugging to Beginners to Build Confidence

It is important to teach debugging to beginners right away. Debugging is when a programmer finds “bugs” or errors in their code and fixes them to improve the program. This is an essential programming skill. So much so, that it should be taught at the beginning of a coding unit.

Where Were the Debugging Strategies in the Instructional Materials and Python Courses?

When I was asked to develop Python materials for TechnoKids Inc. I jumped at the chance. I began to read books about Python. They had titles emphasizing that the instructions inside were for “absolute beginners”. I noticed that none had activities or advice on debugging. Instead, if the code I was copying from the page didn’t work I was left guessing why. It was frustrating!

My reaction was one that I knew students would feel. I worried that young programmers might begin to think “I am not good at programming” when they encountered an error they could not fix. This belief might turn them away from learning more about coding. I knew it was necessary to reframe how students respond to mistakes in their programs. They needed to feel empowered, not defeated.

The books were helpful in understanding the types of instructional materials available to teachers on teaching Python – but I needed to learn more!

I wanted to understand the difference between what young children and young adults were learning about Python. I signed up for a first year course at the university where I did my undergraduate degree. This course did have a section on debugging, but it was at the end of the course. I asked the professor why it was introduced so late and was told it was because beginners could not understand the error messages until they had learned how to code. As a result, I spent a good portion of the course inefficiently applying debugging strategies. I knew there had to be a better way!

When it came time to create the TechnoKids Python STEM projects I had reached a decision…debugging needed to be taught right away. I wanted students to be able to understand the meaning of the errors they would see. More importantly, I knew they needed simple strategies to fix their code.

teach debugging to beginners

Teach debugging to beginners.

What Happens When the Program Keeps Shouting ‘You Are Wrong’…But You Don’t Know How to Make it Right?

When Students Lack Debugging Strategies, Red X’s Tell the Learner They Can’t Code

During my investigation of Python programming with kids I noticed that there were common errors made. These mistakes would trigger several responses by the IDLE Python program. The Python Editor Window, which is where programmers build the code, will display a box with a red x on Windows devices. Those are for syntax or indent errors. In this case, there might be a forgotten bracket or # in front of a comment: simple to fix, but not without knowledge of debugging.

The angry red x’s that show up on the screen mock a novice. Unintentionally they seem to say “you can’t code”. To prevent students from becoming discouraged, teachers should provide strategies for decoding error messages. This will build confidence and promote independence.

syntax and indent error boxes in Python

When a student lacks debugging strategies the Python error messages can be a source of frustration.

When Students Lack Debugging Strategies, They Can’t Find the Problem

Another technique the IDLE Python program uses to assist programmers is to identify a spot within the code where there is an issue. This is accomplished with a reddish-pink box around text. The skilled programmer knows to look BEFORE the highlight.

However, those without debugging strategies can stare at the code forever and never know what is wrong. This is because children and young adults are literal. They look at the reddish-pink text and say “Oh, the problem is right HERE”. Beginners lack sufficient knowledge to locate the error. This shortcoming can easily be overcome by explicitly teaching debugging strategies.

Python error

The word highlighted is not the error. It is the missing bracket BEFORE shape.

When Students Lack Debugging Strategies, Red Text Tells a Beginner They Do Not Understand How to Program

The error response by the IDLE Python program is to show a message in the Python Shell. The text is red. It often tells the programmer there is a name or type error. These errors can occur if a library is not imported, a command is spelled wrong, a variable is not used properly in the code, or a sentence does not use the correct punctuation for joining text with variables. The Python message identifies the line number and reason for the problem. However, with no debugging strategies it can seem like gibberish.

The red text in the Python Shell is the equivalent of using a red pen to grade student work. Many educators have given up this practice as it promotes self-esteem issues, which can turn students away from wanting to learn. Studies have show that for many learners red pen is like ALL CAPS. It yells “You are wrong!” When red text is the method for highlighting errors, it can make a student feel angry or sad. This is avoidable when educators teach debugging to beginners at the start of a coding unit.

Python error messages can seem like gibberish to beginners.

Teach Debugging to Beginners at the Start of a Coding Unit

To avoid making students feel bad about themselves, why not just give students perfect code to copy? Then when they run the program, no errors will happen. Or if they do, they can quickly refer to their sample to find the typo. Problem solved!

No. Not really.

The limitation to this instructional approach is that it restricts learning. One of the goals of teaching a STEM project should be to support students so they produce their own original creations. Aside from developing programming skills, the learning objectives in a programming unit should include: fostering an interest in programming, developing computational thinking skills, and applying logic and reasoning to solve a problem. The aim should not be improving typing skills.

Spark an ongoing interest in programming. Teach debugging strategies at the beginning of a coding unit. This will build confidence and promote independence.

Python Lessons that Explicitly Teach Debugging to Beginners

Teachers need to deliberately teach debugging strategies at the start of a programming unit. This empowers students. Using this instructional approach, the TechnoTurtle STEM project includes activities that teach students about common errors and how to fix the code.

TechnoTurtle has 30 coding assignments. Elementary and middle students solve mazes, create artwork, and build games. Several of the lessons emphasize debugging strategies. They are interwoven throughout the project to introduce or reinforce computer science concepts:

  • Edit a Python Program: Modify values to understand the purpose of code.
  • Bug Zapper: Add mistakes to a program to learn how to debug Python.
  • Clean Up the Code: Fix coding errors by selecting from the list of choices.
  • Trial and Error: Test different ideas to move a Turtle through a maze.
  • Draw a Robot: Write one line of code at a time and make corrections as you go.
  • Edit an Invitation: Change code to discover how to join text with variables.

What Is An Infographic?

What is an infographic? An infographic is a big picture that summarizes a topic. It is a one-page publication that presents information in a graphic way. Simple icons, symbols, maps, and charts combine to explain the data. Text is only used as labels or to briefly describe facts. The viewer explores the content by studying each section of cartoon-like images.

what is an infographic?
What is an infographic? An infographic is a one-page publication that presents information in a graphic way using simple images and text.

Why Use an Infographic?

An infographic is a simple but powerful way to communicate. There are many reasons to use it:

  • catches the interest of the viewer
  • outlines many facts in a compact space
  • conveys data quickly using images
  • informs without lots of written information
  • engages the viewer to think about the topic, because they must explore each part
  • makes a complex issue easy to understand

How Can Students Make an Infographic?

Now that the question “what is an infographic?” and “why use an infographic?” have been answered, the next question is “how can my students make one to demonstrate learning?” Older students with strong graphic design skills can use professional software such as Adobe Illustrator. Unfortunately, not all schools have access to this software, as it is expensive.

Another option for creating an infographic is to apply the drawing and image tools in Microsoft Word. This does limit the design to a standard-sized piece of paper. Although this is a suitable solution for students who are proficient users of Microsoft Office, beginners or younger learners may struggle with arranging their content.

A third choice for designing an infographic is to use Google Sites. Google Sites is a web creation tool that is typically used to build websites. However, the ability to add sections, combine simple images with text, rearrange the layout, and have an infinite page length make it ideal for students who lack strong graphic design or word processing skills. Please note, this option does require students to have Google Drive accounts. Moreover, if your students have school accounts, they must be granted permission to use Google Sites.

View an Interactive Infographic Designed Using Google Sites

how to make an infographic
Discover how to make an infographic using the lessons in TechnoEarth.

How Can Students Design an Infographic using Google Sites?

Are you interested in designing an interactive infographic using Google Sites? In the TechnoKids project TechnoEarth, students play the role of environmental stewards. They select a real world problem and are guided in the research and design of an engaging infographic.

Google Sites, Slides, Docs, and Drawings are combined to build the document. Simple, compelling graphics and brief, captivating text spark interest. To make it especially appealing, the project is interactive. The viewer can browse a rotating slide deck, explore a map, and click through an image carousel. The web-based infographic is a powerful way to communicate an important issue, promote public awareness, and inspire action.

TechnoEarth shows students how to use Google Sites to design an interactive infographic.
Integrate TechnoEarth into a geography, science, or digital literacy class.

Free Remote Learning Resource – Animated Story Unit

Download a free remote learning resource. At TechnoKids, we understand that this is a challenging time for teachers. You’re trying to figure out remote learning, keep students who are at home engaged, and find suitable lessons and materials. We’re here to help.

remote learning resource
free remote learning resource

TechnoKids has a unique, first-time-ever offer to kickstart #remote learning
– a FREE project!

Just until April 30, you can download the complete TechnoToon project. It includes digital storytelling lessons in which students create an animated comic strip using Google Slides or PowerPoint. The worksheets have step-by-step instructions to support learners.

How Do I Get the Free Project?

Don’t miss out – get it here now as a digital download:

  1. Add it to your cart.
  2. Start the checkout process.
  3. Click SUBMIT.
  4. You should get a message to visit the Library to download TechnoToon.
  5. Your username and password is the SAME one you used to place the order.
  6. Read the Getting Started instructions.

Remote Learning and TechnoKids

Here are a few more resources to help with online learning:

Google Classroom: Assign lessons using TechnoKids worksheets. Students can view instructions, by opening the file in the web browser window. If you want them to type in the worksheets they will require a free Chrome extension such as Kami or XODO.

Class Notebook: Create a OneNote Class Notebook that includes TechnoKids worksheets. Attach resources such as templates and samples. This is a simple way to assign and grade submitted work.

Keep in touch, and let us know how we can help you. For safety, we are also working remotely. Email us at support@technokids.com.

Techniques to Teach Debugging Strategies

When designing a Python programming unit, include lessons with techniques to teach debugging strategies. Debugging is the ability to find and fix errors in code. It is a vital skill for young programmers to master.

Don’t hope that students will discover these strategies on their own. Instead, guide them through proven methods.

Explicit Strategy Instruction and Debugging Strategies

STEM classes emphasize writing code to animate objects, create artwork, or build games. In the push to build a program, the ability to edit the code may not be a focus of instruction. In this learning environment, identifying mistakes and correcting them becomes an implicit process.

During programming lessons, students need to decipher the meaning of error codes independently. They must spontaneously determine how to solve the problem. The young programmer can be left feeling inadequate as they struggle to get their programs to run.

Frustration is an integral part of the learning process. It fosters persistence, which is an admirable quality in a programmer. However, for many beginners, the challenges can seem insurmountable and they give up – telling themselves, “I am not good at programming”.

There is a better way!

Explicitly teaching debugging strategies empowers learners. No longer will they feel defeat when an error message appears. Instead, they have techniques to competently debug the Python program. This builds confidence and promotes a positive attitude towards STEM.

4 Techniques to Teach Debugging Strategies

1. Break It, Repair It

There are many techniques to teach debugging strategies. One that is very effective is to intentionally break code, then run the program to notice the result. This type of STEM lesson takes very little instructional time, yet quickly improves debugging skills.

To start, provide students with a Python file. Using direct instruction, have them systematically delete parts of the code to generate common errors. When the program is run, the instant feedback forms a connection between bugs, error messages, and how to fix the problem.

Some suggestions for breaking the code include:

  • remove vital lines such as the import of a library to note how commands are no longer recognized
  • add or delete punctuation such as quotes, brackets, colons, and commas to explore their purpose
  • adjust the indent level of a block of instructions to see how it influences the program
  • alter symbols such as ==, !=, <, and > then study how they alter the output
  • misspell a command to highlight the importance of accuracy when typing code
  • turn an equal sign == into = to notice how the code no longer works

Using these techniques to teach debugging strategies will enhance your students’ programming skills. If you are looking for a ready-made Python lesson, TechnoTurtle has a Bug Zapper exercise. Students follow instructions to produce bugs and then repair the code. This activity is ideal for beginners in Grades 3-9.

break the code

Intentionally break the code. This provides instant feedback when the program runs forming a connection between bugs, error messages, and how to fix the problem.

2. Code and Correct

Another debugging lesson is one that guides students through the development of a program. Using direct instruction, the teacher outlines the goal of the programming task. Line by line, the teacher types the code that the students copy. After each line, students run the program to study the output. When a mistake occurs, the teacher highlights the issue and explains how to troubleshoot the code. Slowly, the program takes shape.

This technique best suits students that are familiar with syntax and name errors. Instead of focusing on typos, this lesson emphasizes the quality of the output. It studies the outcome and provides solutions on how to improve the code. The sample program should be short. It must have common pitfalls to resolve as a class.

TechnoTurtle, a Python programming project for beginners, has several lessons that are ideal for a Code and Correct lesson. For example, students follow steps to draw a robot. Throughout the learning process, problems are intentionally generated. This provides an opportunity for beginners to think about the code and how to improve the program’s design.

techniques to teach debugging strategies

  TechnoTurtle includes techniques to teach debugging strategies. Follow the guided instructions to fix the code.

3. Explore and Investigate

Invite exploration into your STEM lessons to promote a positive attitude towards debugging. Often troubleshooting a program’s output can be a source of frustration. However, in this activity it is fun. Encourage students to play with different values to notice how they change the outcome. Investigate by making a number higher or lower. Or, replace a string with another option.

Explore and Investigate is meaningful. Active discovery demonstrates why one value is better suited to the program than another. It transforms mistakes into happy surprises.

Sparking a life-long interest in STEM is one of the goals of programming lessons. In TechnoTurtle, there are many activities in which students modify the values within a program to achieve a unique outcome. This makes learning enjoyable, which hopefully promotes an on-going interest in programming.

explore and investigate

Invite exploration into your STEM lessons to promote a positive attitude towards debugging.

4. Pick the Correct Code

Another technique to improve debugging skills is to provide students with snippets. Rather than mindlessly copying code they are presented with two options. One snippet is correct, the other has a bug. By making choices, the young programmers write the program.

This type of programming lesson actively engages students. They must study the code and think about the choice they will make. If they are incorrect, the feedback is instant. They can then use the other option instead. This activity cultivates a learning environment where it is safe to make mistakes.

An example of a similar programming activity is Clean Up the Code in TechnoTurtle. Young programmers determine how to debug the code. The program they are editing should stamp turtles on the canvas. However, it has four errors. For each error, they are given two choices. This activity builds debugging skills.

safe to make mistakes

Cultivate a learning environment where it is safe to make mistakes.

Apply Multiple Techniques to Teach Debugging Strategies

When teaching your next programming unit, design lessons that explicitly teach debugging strategies. This will build competence in your students and support independent learning. As well, this instructional approach has the potential to transform how students feel about errors. Turn your STEM classroom into a safe place to make mistakes.