Troy teacher develops critical thinking in students through coding

7th-graders at Troy Middle School created websites using HTML5, CSS

Troy seventh grade students in Debra Benson’s consumer technology class recently designed and coded their own one-page website using HTML and CSS coding programs. Pictured (back from left) are students Vanessa Estrada, Lila Abbott and Hunter Biederman with the website they coded. Pictured (front, left) are Troy 30-C educational technology coordinator Sarah Wells and consumer technology teacher Debra Benson.

Learning computer code certainly helps people create software such as apps and websites.

But Debra Benson, a consumer technology teacher at Troy Middle School in Joliet, feels the benefits of coding for students extend beyond the projects.

“Coding also teaches them critical thinking skills,” Benson added, ”and builds their team collaborating skills.”

Coding teaches kids how to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired to solve problems, Benson said. Her students also learn to code in pairs. One student, the driver, writes the code; the other, the navigator, reviews the code. The students will alternate roles, so each student gets to drive and navigate, she said,

“Coding is not easy sometimes,” Benson said. “But once they’ve finished the projects, they’re so proud of themselves.”

Benson said her students recently used HTML and CSS coding programs to design and code their one one-page website. These programs are the same front-end developers use, she said.

“This is not just ‘drag and drop,’” Benson said.

HTML creates the websites’ structure and CSS gives the websites their colors, images and text boxes, according to a news release from A news release from Troy Community Consolidated School District 30-C.

Students created websites pertaining to Mexican food, “panda bears, why people need dogs, volleyball and football facts, the Maine coon cat, benefits of growing plants, mental disorders, a recipe for cannoli, how to care for pets, all about owning a cockatiel, and ‘Tom Brady vs Aaron Rodgers,’” according to the release.

“One of the stipulations was that they not put any pictures of themselves or any self-identifying information about the school,” Benson said. “We don’t want somebody stalking them.”

Benson said some students are ready for more challenging coding activities, such as coding “little arcade games” and using programs such as Blockly, JavaScript or Python.

“They may start in JavaScript, decide it’s too hard for them and switch back to Blockly,” Benson said.

Benson, who said she previously taught Microsoft Word, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint in Naperville, said she started teaching computer code in 2013 with Hour of Code activities. Many companies today offer coding curriculum for middle school. Some teach kids how to create apps to “improve the climate or help world hunger,” Benson said.

Students in Benson’s class participated in CodeBreak, “an interactive virtual coding classroom” where Benson’s students coded with poetry and song lyrics, according to the release. has dance party playlists they can create, too.

Benson, who once developed software, has told her students that the salary for front end web developers often starts at $102,000.

“They looked at me and said, ‘Then why are you teaching?’” Benson said. “I laughed and said, ‘You’ve got a point.’”

But Benson loves teaching code to students. And with self-driving cars and Tesla bots on the horizon, Benson wants students to be comfortable with code.

“Technology is our future,” Benson said. “They’re going to be the ones creating so they really need code.”