Yesterday, I made reference to a quote that Brian Aspinall had shared about coding:
Why did it take so long to become “trendy” today?
I needed more space to share some thoughts about that so this is it.
I’m really not sure that I like the term “trendy” though. There have always been proponents of coding and having students work with computers. While we weren’t successful in Ontario convincing the curriculum powers that be to include it as a discipline, we were able to get products like Hyperstudio, Frames, and Turing provincially licensed.
I spend an entire teaching career being involved with this and was fortunate to be able to have a full timetable of teaching computer science and data processing. As I reflect back on the most satisfying moments, they occurred when the lights went on and students were able to make this “box” solve a problem or otherwise do something successfully for them.
This past week, a number of us were involved in a Twitter chat session surrounding coding in the elementary classroom. It was wonderful to see so many individuals involved but there still was something that bothered me and I think it boils down to the trendy deal. I like to call it the “App Mentality” that seems to be so pervasive with so many.
Do any web research on a topic, and it won’t take long until you find a post that demonstrates this perfectly. In the best sense of click bait, the title reads something like:
“58 apps to do the same thing and why you need to use them all”
It throws up red flags for me when I read statements like “Oh, I teach coding. We learn this language, then this language, then this language and then learn this language. It’s just like Seymour Papert said.” Huh? Have you even read “Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas”? Was the powerful idea that a student would write a piece of code in this language and then write it again in this other language and so on and so on?
I hardly think so.
Ontario’s Computer Studies Curriculum is the envy of jurisdictions everywhere. In one document, it describes a series of courses devoted to the study of Computer Studies, including Computer Science. The key, and the power, lies in the fact that the courses are described in terms of student expectations. It doesn’t state that this particular language is used in Grade 11 and then this language is used in Grade 12. It honours the teaching profession by allowing for the choice of language by educators and most suitable for the course. It stands the test of time as languages and approaches change.
Sadly, coding in the elementary school hasn’t been covered and so good folks are doing it alone with whatever skillset they have.
I recall one professional development day when I organized a day at the Computer Science Faculty at the University of Windsor. We were coming to grips with the end of life for procedural languages like BASIC and Pascal and were trying to set a future direction. We were seeking an object-oriented solution and the languages we were considering included C, Java, Turing, and probably a few others. One of the teachers asked the Faculty Dean the important question – “Since our students who are interested in pursuing Computer Science will be going to your Faculty, what language do you want them to know?” It seemed like the perfect question.
The answer took many by surprise.
“We don’t care. All we want are students that have computational thinking skills and can solve problems.”
For us, going forward, that was always the guiding principle. And, when you step back from your passion, shouldn’t that be the perfect answer? Many school districts are in love with the Grades 7-12 model for a school. Why not have this conversation with your school’s computer studies teacher? She/He has a vested interest in attracting those who wish to take control of a computer for their own use. What attitudes, skills, and knowledge are they looking for?
I’d be willing to bet that they don’t want a “wide but not very deep” knowledge.
So, back to the apps. We live in a time and age where there are absolutely the best tools available for use right now. You’ve seen the posts; you might even have read some of what I’ve experienced personally on this blog. You, as the professional, need to take a look at the tools and decide what’s appropriate. Short of a provincial or district curriculum, you’ll need to ask “What is it that I want students to be able to do with code?”. Choose the tool, stick with it, and scaffold the coding experience with more challenging problems.
Throwing another app into the mix because it’s “trendy” doesn’t add much. In fact, it may be intimidating to the person just getting started with the concept of coding in their own classroom.
Want to learn more professionally? Monitor this website for the 2015 CSTA Conference. There’s a whole strand devoted to coding in K-8.