I have blogged a lot about coding before, and this is a topic that I continue to contemplate as I learn more about it. When I read the finalized Kindergarten Program Document this summer, I saw some great connections to coding and some explicit mentioning of it as well.
Since our school participated in the Hour of Code, my teaching partner and I decided to try out some coding apps with the students. Many children enjoyed using these apps, and demonstrated various math skills, including directional language, spatial sense, counting skills, subitizing skills, and one-to-one correspondence. That said, there was something about these apps that bothered me … at the time, I wasn’t sure what, but I knew it was something.
Weeks after the Hour of Code, we introduced coding again when a student asked to use the computer one day. He really wanted to play a game, so instead, we thought that we would give him an opportunity for some thinking and application of math skills. We showed this student to Kodable, and before long, a group of other children came over to see what he was doing. They started to take turns playing the game and helped each other throughout the process. I heard lots of different language that made me happy.
- “First you have to go across and then up …”
- “Turn left, then go straight, and then turn right …”
- “You only have 40 seconds now.”
- “Yay! We got 10 more points.”
- “Oh look! I figured out the mistake. I turned the wrong way. This time I have to …”
From the quotes above, you can see the use of mathematical language. You can see the reflection and the willingness to go back and try again. You can also see that coding in this case was “social,” and that’s definitely evident through the videos below.
All of this is wonderful, and yet, there’s still something that’s bothering me …
A couple of days after this, my teaching partner gave a group of students an iPad to use. They used one of coding apps on it. There were many similar conversations to the ones shared above. Stepping back and watching and listening more closely, I started to figure out what was bothering me: many of the students using these coding websites and apps were quickly becoming dysregulated. It was almost like watching a child that spent hours playing a video game. They couldn’t seem to bring themselves down from that game high.
- They were loud.
- They were interrupting each other.
- They wanted control over the game: the iPad or computer needed to be in their hands.
- They were emotional: from huge bouts of excitement to angry cries to upset screams.
- They struggled with pulling themselves away from the device … even when it was time to clean up and to get ready for home.
It didn’t take long for this to happen either: after 5-10 minutes, you could see the change in the students.
Now then, I have my conundrum. On one hand, I love the thinking and math application that comes out of coding. I feel as though if we developed these skills at an early age, students could build on them in later years and do even more. But on the other hand, I’m concerned about the dysregulation that comes from this use of technology, and the impact that this has on our learners. Maybe some low-tech coding options would help, and I realize that this is a possibility, but there’s a lot of great learning that can also come from these high-tech options. I know that the children love these apps and websites, and some may argue that this excitement is just a sign of “engagement.” I wonder if it’s more than that though: could this be a sign of dysregulation, and what might this mean for our learners? We’re currently in an educational system that has us exploring the benefits of coding while also learning more about mental health and well-being. It’s where these two ideas meet, that I’m left wondering the most. What about you?