The “C” Word…

Did you know that over 182,000 digital jobs will need to be filled in 2017 and only 12,760 students will graduate post secondary majoring in ICT? (Information Communications Technology Council, 2016) There is an urgent need for us to closely examine what we are teaching, why we are teaching it, and how to teach it better- and by better, I mean to better meet the needs of our learners.

After attending a provincial PLC hosted by Apple Canada, we were challenged to rethink what we thought we knew about developing 21st Century Competencies -specifically teaching our students to be problem finders, critical and creative thinkers, and problem solvers. We were challenged to rethink the meaning of the “C” word.

“I am one person that saw a problem and created a solution…”

What is it about CODING that makes us shy away, tune out, or in some cases run for the hills???

FEAR.

But…

fear-dr-farrah-gray

Those of us (myself included) who don’t have a math and/or science background often run due to our lack of understanding and confidence to tackle something that appears to be so inaccessible. But is it really? Or did we just write it off because we made assumptions about what we think we know? What do you think you know about coding?

I learned today that I didn’t understand coding the way I thought I did…

What I thought I knew about coding was dated. I was still holding on to my own old ways of thinking about coding which included a long list of barriers that once made coding inaccessible to almost everyone. What challenged my old way of thinking was this question: In the video, what is happening today that would not have been possible 15 years ago?

Well, there is quite a list… access to technology (mobile devices), access to information (internet age), connectivity, visibility of users (of all ages, genders, races), using technology and “code”, getting apps to market, support for developers through innovation hubs, social media to network, connect and share… . And when I reflected on my old beliefs about coding, all of the barriers that I believed once made coding inaccessible (that list above), have all now disappeared.

So what hasn’t changed in 15 years? Well, I picked out a few things: “real-life” PROBLEMS, a desire to HELP OURSELVES and OTHERS, and IDEAS to SOLVE PROBLEMS. And this is where we will begin. This is where we will start to challenge what we think we know, and refresh our understanding of what learning to code really means today. This is where we Face Everything And Rise. (I know… a little dramatic, but you get the idea 😉

“It all begins with that first step” . . . a desire to help others and make a difference

PROBLEM FINDING

I believe that education needs to be real. And by real I mean real-life. And real-life includes experiences that are both positive, and problematic. When we provide our learners with opportunities for inquiry to explore “real-life” problems, we are teaching our kids the first steps of learning to code. We are also teaching our kids to see the world through a lens of empathy. Problem finding begins with empathy. Kids experience problems everyday. Problems that are important to them. Problems, in many cases, that are their own. And these problems are also important to others (even if they aren’t necessarily important to us). So the first step of learning to code is about teaching students to see the world with empathy, and find problems within it that are important to them.

“What we wanted, what we needed didn’t exist. Let’s do it ourselves.”

THE IDEA

Finding the right solution to a problem is the next, and most challenging aspect of learning to code. How do we do it? The answer is simple. We don’t. Our kids do. And this is where we need to learn how to be more comfortable teaching without knowing. I believe that our role as teachers should define us as expert learners and learning activators who explore with students both inside and outside our areas of expertise. Our mission (I believe), is to scaffold our students towards identifying problems and architecting solutions. We provide expertise in other areas like questioning, goal setting, evaluating, analyzing and synthesizing information online… . What we teach our students are the skills and competencies they need to become expert learners. So if we think about coding in this context, is this not what we want for our students? To become expert learners, problem finders, creators of ideas, and problem solvers? What if we think about learning to code, instead as, coding to learn?

“I remember the first time I did it when it worked, and it was magical.”

PROBLEM SOLVING

Not all solutions to problems require a program to be written or an app to be developed. However, what I also learned today is that the app economy is exploding and this has implications for us, and our students. Since 2010 over 1 million new jobs have been created. Appnation has predicted that by 2017 there will be 150 billion dollars invested in the app economy. So what exactly does this mean for our students? It means 2 things: first, that students are using all kinds of apps in “real-life”, and second, it is highly likely that as our students design solutions to problems and determine the ways in which they will bring their solutions to life (and to market), they will want need to create an app or write a computer program. What does this mean for us? It means that the final step of coding to learn is that kids need experience learning how to read and write code.

And here we are… a return to teaching without knowing. But it’s ok, because our students don’t know either, and those that do know, are now empowered to share their expertise in support of the learning of others (and that includes us). But the best news I have for you is that you don’t have to work through this final step alone. Not only are there teachers in #AMDSBLearns (and beyond!) who have experience and a desire to help, but there are also digital tools and apps designed to teach anyone, anywhere, at any age, the language of coding in fun and accessible ways.

 

So what apps can help me teach my students how to read and write code, and design apps?

If you haven’t yet tried Swift Playgrounds I highly recommend it. Through a series of interactive games and activities, you and your students can learn how to read and write code and design your own apps. I know it sounds too good to be true, but you will be surprised at what you and your students are able to accomplish in just a short time. And even though the youngest students might not be able to learn enough “code” to create their own app in the first year, they are gaining the experience they need to one day achieve that goal. What’s more, you could connect them with intermediate or secondary students to collaborate on projects and create solutions to problems together.

To learn more about Swift Playgrounds (including links to download the apps and Facilitator Guide) can be found in this post: Happy Science in Education Week and Hour of Code!

To learn more about other coding apps and websites that can help you and your students learn to code, check out this post: An Hour of Code for Every Student

Why Code?

It’s not about everyone becoming a coder. Coding to learn is about teaching kids to first see the world with empathy, find problems within it that are important to them, and design solutions to solve these problems and help others. Coding to learn means that all learners are provided with the necessary skills and competencies to be successful in our digital world.

Remember, FEAR has two meanings…

 

Thank you to @IClennieT @we_ar_nTO and the team at Apple for the supporting and leading the learning!

One thought on “The “C” Word…

  1. TeachMsK

    Coding has taken over in our grade 5,6,7 and 8 classes. It has become an awesome way to problem solve and work together with student leaders. The students become the “experts” and teach us a thing or 2.
    I know that many people create links to the math curriculum but if you look at it from a language focus it there are a lot of other areas to connect it to. Take for example the edit and revise stage in writing. Students begin with a plan and begin to try and create their procedure for the computer to run their code. From there they have to continuously go back and edit and revise the stages to make it actually work the way they want it to.
    We have had so much fun and many challenges along the way. But watching students create, problem solve together is great to see.
    I would send a shout out to my co teacher Mrs. Alex Hutchison for being the “Queen” of coding in our school. She is inspiring me to get stronger in my field.

    We currently use everything from code.org, scratch, swift playground, lego mindstorm and sphero. Every thing is an adventure and there is an entry point for every level of learning.

    I hope that you will get your “Code” on and jump in! Ask questions and add a little play based inquiry to your learning. It certainly has added an extra level to our classes here at Howick.

    Nicole Kaufman

    Like

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