We often hear the term practice makes perfect. The real question is, what does that really mean? At Digital Adventures, we’ve had the opportunity to work with thousands of young people on their journey to learn how to build with technology. While there is no doubt that the next generation truly enjoys all things technology, how do you develop the skills that will enable your child to truly be exceptional? Through our work, we have learned that nothing is better at developing a kid's technology building superpower than practice.
In music, sports and everything in between, those who are truly great practice consistently. However, it is not sufficient to just practice because you can practice the wrong things. For example, if your free throw form is terrible, it doesn’t matter if you shoot 1, 100 or 1,000 free throws a day; you are never going to get better. On the other hand, if you can truly hone in on the core elements of a free throw from the routine to how you hold the ball and your mechanics, then you will be able to iterate on improving areas that are weak with your shot.
With learning to build with technology, the process is not different. One must truly understand the foundational elements of what they need to learn. From loops to algorithms and everything in between, you must have an opportunity to practice the building blocks in a way that leads to iterating and improving so that you can ultimately excel.
As we switched our instructional content and delivery to online, we created project walkthroughs to help facilitate this process of practice. Each walkthrough provides 7-15 challenge steps that lead students from blank screen to a fully functioning project. Embedded within each step is a text based prompt for what is to be accomplished at the conclusion of the challenge. Along with the prompt, students can get an additional text based and visual hint that precisely shows how to complete each step.
Our platform then tracks how students complete the project with just the aid of the prompt along with the additional hints. Since walkthroughs are web-based, students can return to review projects over and over again. However, we wanted to embed practice within our program. So, we would repeat working on projects during class time every 4-6 weeks as part of our instructional routine.
At first, we had push back from both parents and students who didn’t think our program was as valuable if we didn’t deliver new project based content each week. However, we were insistent that this was the right approach to make sure that students were able to learn to build with technology independently. We knew that if students only had a 60 minute review of a project that they would never truly build the muscle memory necessary to internalize the foundational elements of building.
On the other hand, there was a core group of parents and students who trusted the process. They helped discuss with their kids the importance of practice. Students leaned in and began to realize how much more competent and confident they were the 2nd or 3rd time they worked on a project. Eventually, they became skilled at working through a project’s base without needing additional hints.
In fact, they became so knowledgeable in the building process that they began to extend and expand upon the base project with key customizations and innovations. This capability meant that they had gained a true understanding for how to utilize the foundational knowledge of learning to build with technology to create something new. And, they just loved it. Their parents also loved it because they became more engaged with our classes and began to work on their own outside of class to practice with the goal of shoring up areas that they weren’t as strong in and to build better muscle memory in those areas where they were already excelling.
While in may seem obvious that practice is the key element in developing your kid’s tech superpower, the reality is that it can be difficult to incorporate that into a program in a meaningful way. Since making that change in our structure, our customer retention rates have skyrocketed and the quality of student projects has continued to improve. Given the desire to have each student maximize their individual potential, we have been able to get a more fine grained understanding of strengths and weaknesses both at a platform and instructor level. This has enabled us to provide that feedback to students so that they can work on becoming the best technologists they can. And, that’s an outcome that we can all be proud of.