Kyle Steele was inspired to learn about coding after seeing Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report in 2004. He wondered: How could you make those interactive billboards featured in the film work? After spending several years in classrooms across Orange County Public Schools and the District of Columbia Parks and Recreation introducing elementary students to coding, he founded Learn Jelly in 2016.
Why did you decide to start Learn Jelly?
As I worked with elementary students, I saw how my method of teaching coding greatly impacted their reading skills. This was an important discovery because I worked with a lot of students from low-income homes. The data around reading literacy rates of students from low-income homes is at a crisis level because they are caught up in a never-ending cycle of educational disadvantage. Because of this, by the age of 3, many of them have a 30 million word gap when compared to children from wealthier homes. As a result, they typically enter grade school with an issue in reading proficiency; and by the time they reach 4th grade, 47% are reading below the basic level. Even worse, during summer months, more than 80% of them lose reading skills because they lack access to learning resources and enrichment opportunities. Over time, this summer learning slide can add up to the equivalent of 3 years of reading loss by the end of 5th grade.
Understanding that students mastering basic reading skills in elementary school is critical because it is the foundation for more advanced curriculum, it became essential for me to identify a way for more students to access my work to ensure their academic success. The only way that I could accomplish this was by developing a solution that would allow students and teachers to access my work online. The solution was Learn Jelly, a system that helps elementary students learn deeper, improve reading comprehension and critical thinking skills and gain coding exposure through the process of animating stories based on content areas.
Is Learn Jelly’s approach to coding unique?
I feel like our approach is different because our focus is not on teaching kids how to code but to teach people how to use coding as a tool to accomplish some goal. In the case of students, their goal is to create something. For the teacher, their goal is to help students learn and improve their reading and critical thinking skills. In each case, coding is the tool that allows them to accomplish their goals.
When a child is learning to code, how important is it for the parent to be involved?
It’s very important for a parent to come alongside their child during a coding activity because it helps maximize the learning experience. Coding can be an extremely challenging activity for young students. As a result, students can become frustrated and disengage because they lack the emotional or intellectual skills to persevere through these moments. Obviously, this is counterproductive in a learning experience. A teacher can be effective in moving a student through these moments but I find having a parent present is of tremendous benefit. Parents are intimately familiar with their children, therefore are more capable of providing the nuanced support that helps students navigate challenges faster, remain engaged and extract the learning benefits of these gritty moments.
What would you say to someone who thinks coding is too difficult to learn?
I’d say that they already know how to code. Coding is simply step-by-step instructions that tell a computer or something what to do or how to make something. That means every person who has written a chore list for their children, instructions on how to make a lasagna, or has read Ikea instructions has coded.
Kyle, who serves on our Science for All Advisory Committee, will conduct a free coding class for young members during Otronicon; details will be in January’s MicroSCOPE e-newsletter. Find out more about Kyle and Learn Jelly by visiting learnjelly.com.