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July 29, 2021

Help Your Students Flow: Coding the Flow State

How can you keep your students engaged through long and arduous coding lessons? Let your students flow.

Sometimes, it can be a challenge to engage your students in their coding classes. Especially through challenging sections filled with massive amounts of code, keeping students’ attention can feel like a formidable puzzle.

How can you keep your students engaged through long and arduous coding lessons? Let your students flow. By setting up a learning environment that aids their brain in focusing, your students will be able to achieve a flow state that keeps them actively participating in programming and computer science for years to come.

What is Flow State?

A flow state is a mental phenomenon that has you entirely focused on what you’re doing. In other words, you’re “in the zone.” When you’re in this state, you blend with the task you’re working on. Your sense of self vanishes, and nothing exists outside of your activity and your work at it.

This state can cause your absolute best work, as the maximum amount of your attention is on a task. The condition makes time fly past you; people in flow might find that they didn’t realize how quickly an hour or day went by. People in flow will also feel quite happy, capable, motivated, and focused.

Why Does Flow Happen?

Flow is a little different for everyone. Generally, flow states happen when four conditions are met:

  • There are minimal distractions.
  • The tasks are suitable for the skill level available.
  • The tasks are clearly defined and immediately achievable.
  • The effects caused are immediate and correctable.

It’s also important to note that flow states more commonly occur in subjects that you enjoy and want to focus on. To get to an area of understanding that allows you to flow, you need to first put much effort into struggling towards some comprehension.

Helping Your Students Flow:

Once your students know how to get into a flow state, they’ll continue to work towards that feeling. Flowing makes academics much more rewarding and fun for young learners; it can even release reward chemicals like dopamine.

Though the causes and even intensity of flow states can vary between students, you can set your students up for success with mindful adjustments to your classroom:

  • When you assign projects or work, make the stages, requirements, and steps clear.
  • Allow for uninterrupted work time in class. Encourage students to work quietly for a well-defined amount of time.
  • Pay attention to what your students are passionate about. Give them the freedom to add creatively to their projects.
  • Pay special attention to the skill level of your students. Add additional challenges for students that are performing above average, and offer extra help and encouragement to those that are struggling.
  • Design and implement ways for students to immediately get performance feedback.  

Flow in Coding

Flow is the perfect mindset to code in. Engineers and coders that can achieve this state have a much better time keeping track of long files, lists of variables, and sets of functions. To aid students in finding flow during code, try the following strategies:

  • With coding projects, provide distinct requirements and clear grading rubrics.
  • Modify code projects and work according to the skill level of your students
  • Encourage students to run their projects often. Have them check the output of their work as they go.
  • Transparently schedule learning and lecture time, quiet work time, and collaboration time. Keep these times separate and clearly define expectations for each of these times.
  • During quiet work time, avoid stopping the class from their work. Focus on keeping the room quiet.
  • Allow students to take breaks and relax if they need to. Neither you nor they can force a flow state to happen.
  • Instead of pushing students towards the finish line, provide them with code milestones. Look for ways to celebrate progress instead of completion.
  • When your coders work in groups, encourage them to hold a “meeting” where they divide up tasks, and then “flow time” where they go their separate ways to work on their parts of the project.

Flow in Gaming

Gaming is an excellent way to train students to develop flow. Playing esports and other video games is one of the easiest ways to get into a flow state! Many games are successfully addicting because of how they encourage flow states to occur. Take inspiration from video games and game design psychology to help your students flow in academics too:

  • Video Game Quest Systems: the player’s objectives are organized, stored, and transparent. When a player chooses a quest to focus on, many games give them directions on where to go.
  • Levels and Stages: video games often separate difficulty into distinct segments. This method makes long and arduous games feel much more manageable! Designing checkpoints and milestones allows for a measurement of progress and lessens the feeling of being overwhelmed by big projects.
  • Video Game Achievements: addicting video games are excellent at rewarding the player for positive actions. Defeating a challenging boss will often reward the player with equipment that makes the game a little easier or more enjoyable. Finding an Easter Egg or getting bonus points might give a player a badge that they can show off to their friends!
  • Timed Challenges: video games often limit the time a player has to accomplish something. A countdown establishes a sense of urgency, encouraging players to focus more deeply on their tasks.
  • Sound Design: the most memorable soundtracks in video game history have something in common: they’re all noninvasive! Sound designers purposefully make video game music that doesn’t distract from the main event (the game). Creating an environment that doesn’t cause distractions makes tasks much easier to accomplish.
  • Clean HUDs: Next time you’re playing a game, take a look at the stats and information on the border of your screen. The status indicators like maps and health that are visible while you’re playing, called the HUD (heads up display) are best when intuitive and not an eyesore. Like soundtracks, these elements are designed not to be distracting from the main event: the action happening in the center of the screen. Just like auditory distractions, it’s crucial to limit visual ones.


At Mastery Coding, we know the value of flow. That’s why we use gaming as a vector for learning and discovering. When students do what they love, they learn and flow with ease!

Discover Mastery Coding’s Pathways Esports and Game-and-Learn Camps: curricula designed to encourage engagement, fun, and flow.

Authors

Olivia is Mastery Coding's Content Marketing Director based in Portland, Oregon.