Beyond the Hour of Code: what next?

Last week marked the official Hour of Code 2017, a worldwide, annual event to introduce students to the basics of computer programming. It has been wonderful to see my school embrace this opportunity, particularly in my Year Four grade level. The Hour of Code is a step-by-step introduction that’s great for staff and students alike. But after all of the fun and successes… what next?

We could wait until Hour of Code 2018, but what would be the point of it? If we’re honest, none of us are expert coders after an hour. If it’s just a one-off, what have we gained? Besides a certificate, probably very little. I’m reminded of this quote:

“If technology is an event at your school, you’re doing it wrong.”

Josh Allen

Coding should not be a one-off. The Hour of Code is intended to be an introduction to this important skill. It should open doors for future learning and spark conversations and ideas about what’s possible through coding. As a beginner, I wanted to explore its importance and our options going forward.

Why teach children to code?

In his TED Talk, Let’s teach kids to code, MIT Media Lab’s Mitch Resnick compares coding to reading and writing. Once children can read and write, they can learn through reading and writing. Resnick explains this shift from learning to code to coding to learn. Computer programming can provide a meaningful, engaging context for learning a wide range of other topics.

The popularity of coding in education is huge and continues to grow. This is mainly due to the thinking skills that are strongly associated with it. For example, through coding, students develop:

  • Creativity
  • Resilience
  • Perseverance
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Confidence
  • Innovation

Steve Jobs succinctly stated that coding teaches people to think. The traits above are among the most desired outcomes of education, especially in the twenty-first century.

Interestingly, Mitch Resnick also warns us about the term “digital natives” (a term that I have used several times on this blog to describe our children). The younger generations might be native consumers of technology, but is this all that we expect? Children need to be taught to create using technology, something that is significantly less common than digital consumption. This shift from consumers to creators was also a major factor in my research on screen time.

“It’s almost as if they can read but not write with technology.”

Mitch Resnick

Coding in classrooms is about learning. It is not necessarily about becoming a professional computer programmer. Having said that, many studies and projections show that programmers will be in high demand in our students’ futures. Across the world, major shortages are expected in the next few years, with more jobs available than skilled programmers to fill them. In the US alone, there will be one million unfilled programming positions by 2020. To meet the demands of the future, we should introduce children to programming at an early age. Coding is often considered a language and, like other languages, it is best introduced early in childhood (CodeREV, 2017).

For these reasons, programming is an essential skill; a skill that should be accessible to all at a young age. As teachers, it’s vital that we show a willingness to learn. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg predicts that coding will soon dominate the profession. Are we prepared for this?

“In fifteen years we’ll be teaching programming just like reading and writing… and wondering why didn’t do it sooner.”

Mark Zuckerberg

So, what next?

It’s clear that annual coding events, while enjoyable, are insufficient. As a learning tool with unlimited potential, we should be taking advantage of coding in the classroom throughout the school year and throughout the curriculum. This is an idea that I am, admittedly, totally unprepared for. This is not my area of expertise. However, I do recognise the need to learn and I am excited to do so. After reaching out to my PLN on Twitter for advice, I have identified these next steps:

  • Upskill

I am determined to learn to code to a proficiency that allows me to help my students and colleagues (although I would also be happy for my students’ abilities to overtake my own). I enjoy a learning challenge, especially when I can see so much untapped classroom potential. I have bought several books, including the newly-released Code Breakers by Brian Aspinall (the latest in the always fantastic Dave Burgess titles). I am also self-learning through online tutorials and the SoloLearn app.

  • Identify authentic curricular links

In an upcoming grade level meeting, we will discuss as a Year Four team (with help from our technology specialists) how we can integrate coding into our curriculum. We will identify relevant and authentic opportunities to learn coding through our units and also enhance our unit learning through coding. At this stage, I have a reasonable understanding of how this could look in maths, but I’m less sure about other areas of the curriculum. If you have any ideas that will support us with this, please leave a comment below.

  • Encourage coding during iTime (AKA Genius Hour) and Golden Time

Some of my students sporadically code throughout the year as part of their iTime projects, but I feel that my lack of understanding is holding them back because I’m unsure what to suggest beyond basic tutorials. With an increased awareness of what’s possible through available resources (see below), I can help to make their projects more sophisticated. We will also make better use of Golden Time to offer valuable “sandbox” time, just for playing with code.

Resources

Below is a list of the most common suggestions from my PLN. I will explore these tools as starting points.

Even after the official Hour of Code week has ended, it’s worth returning to this site because the resources and tutorials are available throughout the year and many activities are available to follow up (you’ll have to sign up for an account to access these follow-up activities).

Scratch is a product of the MIT Media Lab that teaches children to create games, stories and animations through coding. Furthermore, it allows students to share their creations within the huge Scratch community. For younger students, Scratch Jr. is available as an iPad app and is a hugely popular introduction to coding for the early years.

LaunchBox is a product of BSD Code and Design Academy. I actually used the Hour of Code opportunity to explore it. The courses help students to learn ‘real’ coding, as opposed to the more child-friendly block coding. I completed the free mobile app course. I was impressed that it went beyond coding and focused also on elements of design. Although some courses are available freely, your school will need to pay to access most of the content.

Another great option for learning beyond block coding. Code Academy offers courses in multiple coding languages, including HTML, JavaScript and Python. It offers an introduction to each and a wide variety of project options.

This organisation is actually the provider of the Hour of Code. It’s worth going back to this site for more activities, tutorials and projects for all age ranges, included some highly-sophisticated projects. Sign up to access the content.

Why do I feel the need to learn to code? To conclude, I’ll leave you with this quote. It was actually a tweet that I saw a long time ago. I can’t even remember who tweeted it, but it has stayed with me ever since.

“No teacher’s comfort zone should ever impede a child’s learning.”

If you have more ideas or suggestions that you think will help me, please leave a comment below. Thank you!


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