Contemplating

Over the weekend, Aviva Dunsiger shared her most recent thoughts about coding in the classroom in a post “Continuing to Contemplate Coding“.  Like many of her posts, it has more questions than answers.  And, that’s always a good thing!

I started to write a reply to her post but then realized I was going to need more than that.  So, Aviva, this one’s for you.  I would encourage you to read Aviva’s original post.  She asks some very important questions and the post itself is a wonderful example of the musing of a reflective educator.

As I read her post, it brought back memories of my Computer Science teachable class at the university.  Bright young educators take the course because they’re going to change the world.  So many of them bring formal Bachelor and Master of Computer Science degrees and/or industry experience to the class with them.  They’ve seen the light and they’re going spread it everywhere they go.

On the first night, I always start with some off-computer activities to try and set the context of the course.  One of my favourites is to have 11 chairs at the front of the classroom and take 10 volunteers to hold a piece of paper with the number 1, 2, …10.  They seat themselves randomly and my instruction to the rest of the class is to give instructions so that the students at the front end up in numerical order.  There are only two rules – only one person of the 10 is allowed to stand up at any point and they can use the 11th chair for whatever purpose they want and everyone in the class has to be in agreement with the next instruction given.

It’s a fun and yet frustrating activity for them.  You can hear them discussing bubble sorts, insertion sorts, quick sorts, etc.  Put a computer in front of any of them and I’m sure they could have solved it in 30 seconds.  But it gets difficult when you have to visualize it in another context and, even worse, work with others!  Doesn’t that just describe learning something new?

As we debrief after the activity, we talk about various things as you can imagine but the point that really is driven home is that any concept needs to be applied properly and it’s difficult to just parachute into the middle of things.  Regardless, during the last night before their first practice teaching assignment, they have great plans to teach C when they get out there and graduate classes of programmers in two weeks  Uh huh.

The first night back after being out is always fun.  The first half of our session is devoted to blowing off steam, talking about teenagers, wondering why the love isn’t there, …  They get it.  We talk about curriculum development, progression and understanding of concepts, and get a new appreciation for the Ministry of Education Curriculum Documents that take forever to get written and vetted and yet are so valuable when you finally get your hands on them.

Aviva’s questions are really indicative of the frustration of the early adopter.  The Hour of Code initiative has spawned so many people wanting to do the contemporary “right thing”.  Personally, I absolutely agree that teaching coding at some level is needed and can have so many benefits in all subject areas.  If only there was a curriculum…or, better, a set of guidelines and understandings that would show what and how it looks like in the mathematics or language or science classroom.  You don’t have to look hard to find the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards or the National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study.

We live in a world of the perpetual beta.  Online, most of us understand that so many things are developing in front of our eyes.  We’re living through these things and I would suggest that applying this logic towards the understanding of introducing coding into the classroom falls into the same category.  I fully acknowledge that we stand on the giants who have educationally gone before us and saw the benefits of coding and technology long before it became as high a profile as it is.  Pity the poor classroom teacher getting started.  There are so many resources.  Check any Hour of Code collection and there are excellent tools to use.  It’s just that a sense of direction and purpose hasn’t been explicitly stated.  We can learn so much from the experiences of others.  I keep this story around as a reminder “Teaching our children to code: a quiet revolution“.

There will be a time, I hope, that we in Ontario get our collective acts together and move forward in a purposeful direction.  Perhaps the first textbook company that produces coding activities aligned with the topic will take it over the top?  Or, at the least, an addendum to the current resource.

In the meantime, great teachers are working their way through things, gaining experience and expertise as they go.

I know Aviva said it, but I’ll bet she speaks for the masses when she’s asking for answers to these questions.

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2 thoughts on “Contemplating

  1. Thanks for publishing this post, Doug, and sharing your own experiences and perspectives. I so appreciate this! As I’ve engaged in even more discussions through Twitter and my blog after I published my post, I’m feeling even more strongly that coding should be a tool used to share learning in other curriculum areas. It’s an option — a great one — and one that I believe students should learn, but when and how that happens are what I continue to contemplate. I think that many of my questions stem from my own Grade 1 student experiences, and I wonder if my thoughts, feelings, and questions would be different if I taught a different grade and maybe even had students with different strengths and needs. No matter what the expectations may be, we have to take students from where they’re at and move them forward, and how do we decide when students are ready to start coding? Maybe they’re not all ready at the same time or in the same way, and that could be okay too. Again, it comes down to kids … right? I’d love to know what others have to say about this. Just like with everything else we do in education, I think there’s value to questioning, changing, reflecting, and changing again — and maybe this happens a lot as we’re trying to figure out what role coding plays in the classroom.

    Aviva

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