Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to meet with Enzo Ciardelli: a fellow teacher in the Board and a strong advocate for coding (and computer science) in the classroom. It was during our discussion that I had an epiphany: coding may not be for everyone, but all students deserve the opportunity to have coding as a real choice for sharing their learning. Now I say that this was an epiphany, and yet, last year after EdCamp Hamilton, I actually blogged about a similar topic. This recent epiphany though takes my thinking from EdCamp Hamilton a step further. It actually brings me back to a blog post that I wrote on cursive writing.
How does coding have to do with cursive writing? It’s actually not about the writing itself, but about some words of wisdom that Valerie Bennett, a fellow educator, shared with me many summers ago during our “summer of cursive” discussions. Valerie explained to me that if we’re going to make cursive writing a real option for students that we have to model the use of it. If we only print or type, what are we saying about the value of this other option? I think that the same question could be asked when it comes to coding.
Yes, I run a Coding Club, and I have some junior students that are expert coders. They could probably see how coding could be used as a way to share learning, but then again, if coding isn’t used in the classroom, how are we promoting its value, and giving students the courage to speak up and ask for it as a choice? I also think about those students that don’t know what coding is yet, but if exposed to it, might find a new sharing option that works for them. Maybe all they need from us is a little bit of modelling and an opportunity to play.
It’s with this thinking in mind, that I wonder about this approach to coding:
- Spend a couple of periods exposing all of your students to coding. While I’m certainly in favour of the Hour of Code, if we want students to see the creation possibilities for coding, we also need to explore different coding options. I think that experimenting with Scratch, Scratch Jr., or Hopscotch may be best, depending on the age and abilities of your students and the resources available (i.e., computers versus iPads). Some students are going to struggle with coding, but maybe they can pair up with others or you can provide some additional scaffolding. For students to “choose” coding, they need to have some experience with it first and see its potential as a way to share thinking and learning.
- Let students share their learning with others. You don’t have to be the teacher in this case. Have a look at what different students create, and let them share their creations with others: inspiring their peers to try something new or explore a different option for the tool or program they were already using.
- Give coding as a choice. When you start to create your assignments in class, suggest coding as one way that students can communicate their findings. Maybe they can make a digital storybook using Scratch Jr., create a program using Scratch, or show their new math learning using Hopscotch. Even just sharing one or two open-ended possibilities might make a student in the classroom realize that coding doesn’t just have to be a lunchtime activity.
While I may be the teacher that runs the Coding Club at our school and codes — at least periodically — with her primary students, the truth is that coding is a real challenge for me. There are lots of connections with spatial sense, and I struggle with visualizing these spatial moves in my head. I have yet to write a successful program, and just about all of my students — past and present — are more advanced coders than I am. But I’m a huge advocate for student choice and voice, and I wonder, are we really giving our students this choice and voice when it comes to coding if we don’t at least introduce it to them? If we’re not, what students might be losing out on an option that works best for them? I would hate to think that we’re missing an opportunity for increased student success — for any number of students. What are your thoughts?
Hi Aviva, I’m happy to read this blog. I agree 1000% I believe if we do not offer it as a choice, we are taking away an opportunity from our kids. Coding needs to be a choice for students. Here are some sticking points for me:
1. Hour of Code and Coding Clubs are clearly not enough. They are well-intentioned but provide limited exposure. It’s getting to the point where I am wondering if they are worth pursuing. At my school we have more than 700 students. I have 20 students who code. That’s a small percentage who are getting exposure and the exposure is once per week for about 30 minutes.
2. Part of coding is examining each code afterwards and it is a collaborative process. That’s how they progress as coders. They end up extending their ideas for the next assignment. I was interviewed by Microsoft Canada and they strongly insisted on kids coding in pairs (at least) and sharing their codes along with their finished product.
3. If a student does not choose to code for a particular activity, I have no issues with that. In fact, I’m happy if they choose a means of expressing curriculum in another way. The opportunity is what matters. I think some people think I am extreme into coding. The truth is I am committed to student choice.
I absolutely enjoyed this blog. I dropped my laundry to read and respond right away. Thank you Aviva!
Thank you so much for the comment and the kind words, Enzo! You’ve really highlighted the thinking component of coding, and this is so important. I agree with you about Coding Clubs as well. While I’m happy to have the 15-20 students that come each week, I wonder how many other students we could reach in a class context. Looking at coding as another great opportunity for “student choice,” I think helps us keep the focus on the learning and not just the technology. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this. Thanks for the epiphany and the continued discussion!