How SEL skills equip students to take on the digital world

Coding, robotics and ed-tech tools teach students to problem-solve and persevere in school—and beyond
By: | April 17, 2020
(Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash)(Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash)
Michelle VandyBogurt is secondary science teacher at Northwest High School, part of Northwest Community Schools in Jackson, Michigan.

Michelle VandyBogurt is secondary science teacher at Northwest High School, part of Northwest Community Schools in Jackson, Michigan.

Our job as educators in today’s digital world has shifted. With increasing screen time and new applications arising daily to engage children’s time and interest, educators often compete for attention and focus. At the same time, young people are having a challenging time with social interactions and how they emotionally react and respond to problematic situations.

While it’s imperative we teach children to be competent learners as well as users and even creators of technology, we must also emphasize building social and emotional management skills.

To tackle these issues, I implemented essential social-emotional learning into my lesson plans to help students succeed in school, the workforce and beyond.


Read: Updated: 167 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic


Why SEL?

Incorporating SEL in my classroom allowed me to see a difference in the way my students began reacting and processing. After I implemented SEL, my students began:

  • showing empathy when working with peers
    Knowing the appropriate facial expressions and body language during conversation requires coaching.
  • dealing with and persevering in spite of setbacks
    Robotics and coding did not come naturally to me, and I was often learning with my students. Consequently, I experienced numerous failures, and I could show my students how to persevere through them.
  • adjusting to feedback to show flexibility and make improvements
    In the same vein as instant gratification, students have a tough time responding to and implementing feedback. SEL skills inherent in coding and robotics push students to adjust to newfound information and implement trial-and-error skills.
  • pursuing the joy of aha! moments in problem-solving
    The most gratifying aspect of incorporating SEL into my lessons has been pushing students to enjoy problem-solving. I explain to my students that it is absolutely OK to struggle through their work and that the aha! moment would make it all worth it.

The most gratifying aspect of incorporating SEL into my lessons has been pushing students to enjoy problem-solving. I explain to my students that it is absolutely OK to struggle through their work and that the aha! moment would make it all worth it.

Using ed-tech tools to build students’ SEL skills

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, SEL consists of five main components: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and social awareness.

How did I incorporate these in my classes? For me, immediately engaging coding and robotics tools, such as constructing robots from easy-to-design build kits, provided ideal opportunities for my students to practice SEL skills that I am confident they’ll carry on for life. Other ed-tech tools might work better for you; play to your strengths.


Read: How to propel social-emotional learning in online education


When using coding and robotics or other ed-tech tools to build students’ SEL skills, here are three considerations.

  1. Show yourself failing. I often simultaneously teach myself and learn from students as we initiate brand-new sets of robotics kits. It is very challenging to get 12 robot designs working from our initial software uploads as well as use coding products, such as Ardublockly, without coaching students on SEL skills in advance. In planning, I think through ways I can demonstrate my own error-making and analysis skills to persevere, balancing robotics with SEL.
  2. Model SEL skills for the entire class to see. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to model these skills. Early on, I noticed that my students struggled when trying to independently master the lessons. I troubleshot this by working alongside students with a robotics kit of my own to demonstrate how to get designs to work, check for bugs in the programming and coding, and eliminate things that are not wrong in a methodical manner.
  3. Differentiate for all learners to allow for collaboration. To meet the needs of all learners, I differentiate my lessons. For example, more advanced students often prefer to work alone at first. Then, they use that gained knowledge and experience to coach their peers. During test trials, I step back and allow my student teams to offer suggestions and guidance to one another. During this time of trial, error and feedback, I see students feeling motivated to share successes and offer constructive advice to others as their own comfort level and confidence increase.

This change in pedagogy has instilled a spirit of autonomy in my students and has helped a great deal in equipping them with the SEL skills necessary to take on the demands of the digital world.


Michelle VandyBogurt is secondary science teacher at Northwest High School, part of Northwest Community Schools in Jackson, Michigan. She also coaches two FIRST® Robotics middle school teams, one FIRST Robotics high school team, and a Square One Autonomous Innovative Vehicle Design Challenge team. 


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