This year many teachers have allowed me into their classrooms and let me introduce their students to coding through the Hour of Code initiative. It was great to see the students engaged in using code to solve the puzzles on games like Candy Quest and Angry Birds. The teachers I worked with also thought it was great. They were amazed that all their students were willing and engaged. Hour of Code was diverse enough that all students could find an activity that would hold their interest and introduce them to coding. But, what I noticed, was about a week later (after the teachers had time to digest what they saw) they said, “OK, but where do I go next? How (or even should) do I follow up with coding in my class?” At a round table at the SXSWEdu conference we tried to tackle some of these issues. Here is what we came up with.
Most people at our round table thought that it was very important to approach coding through other subjects. I would say most school boards in North America are without an explicit coding curriculum, so it is necessary to embed coding into other subjects. Using Scratch to highlight the practical application of coordinate planes, having students create their own simple video game for a media or art project, and coding dialogue between characters on an interactive setting were ideas that were discussed. You can also embed coding in to your current classroom structures and routines. Having a coding rotation as part of your language program, or a coding centre in math are easy ways to incorporate coding into your instruction. These are also great ways for students to practice fundamental coding skills like using loops and specific commands. Coding doesn’t have to be something extra, nor does it have to be something separate; coding can become a regular tool your students use.
We should also allow students to use their coding knowledge in projects. Like PowerPoints, songs, reports, essays, portfolios etc. coding should be an option for students to showcase their knowledge. Mentioning coding as a possible creative outlet is the key. Telling kids they can use Scratch to create an interactive skeleton diagram, or HTML to create a website on the personality flaws of the character in a novel are possibilities. With any new medium we need to expect that it will be messy. Students will not be able to create a website using HTML that will be as visually appealing as another student writing a report. We also need to recognize that we might be able to help them troubleshoot; we need to be ready to tap the techy teacher in our school on the shoulder, invite the computer programming parent into the class, or be ready to help the students write an email to an expert. We can also circumvent obstacles by removing that element they are trying to bring on, or by slightly changing learning goals.
I think when people hear coding they associate it with gaming. On programs like Scratch students can create a variety of environments, even ones that aren’t game based. When asked about how coding could be brought into the history curriculum Lombardo immediately mentioned Scratch. He said students could create sprites and backgrounds that represent historical periods. Students could then get these sprites to interact. Picture Louis Riel having a conversation with MacDougall. Students could also use App Inventor – a program that uses block coding – to create an app that explains a topic covered in class. Students click on buttons attached to parts of an animal cell. The app could then have audio which explain that cell part. Think of coding as a way to create, not just as a way to make game.
How have you continued coding in your classroom? Who do you turn to for advice?