As we begin a new decade, there is no doubt that computer science skills and coding are becoming increasingly relevant for our students. As educators, we are preparing our students to live in an ever-changing world where a constantly expanding body of knowledge is literally at their fingertips. Therefore, in addition to curriculum content, we must ask ourselves, how can we inspire students to be passionate about lifelong learning, to develop creativity and critical thinking and to be persistent and show grit and determination?
Throughout the past two years, I have found that incorporating coding and maker education into my classroom has been absolutely integral in addressing these questions. My journey to incorporate coding in the classroom did not begin as a technology teacher; rather I am a Grade Six classroom teacher with no educational background in technology. If you had told me in 2017 that I would be integrating coding regularly into my instruction, I would probably not have believed you!
When I first heard about coding in the classroom, I will admit, I was fairly skeptical. Buzzwords come and go in education and I thought perhaps it was a new trend but it wouldn’t be relevant for my position. After all, I had never written a line of code in my life! I thought I surely had no place to be teaching coding and it’s not as if my students were all going to become computer programmers.
Teachers are already so pressed for time,I thought this would be just another thing that would take even more time away from the curriculum. As time progressed, I kept hearing more about coding in the classroom and I decided to attend a professional learning session with an open mind. After collaborating with some colleagues, I decided I would give it a try and see what happened.
As I began to incorporate coding in my classroom, my fears and skepticism quickly melted away. Coding was not something extra that I had to find time for, rather it was a versatile tool which enabled students to learn and demonstrate knowledge in virtually any curriculum area.
My lack of technological knowledge was not a hindrance at all; not having all the answers for my students made them better problem solvers and it created a classroom community where we could be co-learners and research solutions together. This has lead to far greater collaboration amongst students, another important skill for today’s learners.
In addition, I realized that I could augment my professional learning through availing of the many resources out there to help Canadian educators bring coding into the classroom, such as the workshops offered by Kids Code Jeunesse. And, no, my students are not all going to become computer programmers, but now I’ve opened their eyes to potential careers and opened new avenues to creativity, all while reinforcing curriculum content through a different lens.
Beyond overcoming any skepticism I had, the level of motivation and engagement in my classroom when I incorporate coding makes me certain that it is a worthwhile endeavour.
Students routinely go above and beyond what is asked of them as they get so involved in being the creators of digital content, rather than just consumers of it. They show such persistence and determination because it is meaningful to them.
Just recently, when we completed motion geometry projects using Scratch, I had not planned to present them, but students begged to show their work to the class because they were so proud of them. In twelve years of teaching, it was the first time I have ever had students beg to present! I don’t assign coding homework in my classroom, however students regularly ask if they can please work on their coding projects at home because they are so engaged.
Coding, by its very nature is creating, and students feel so proud and accomplished when they see their ideas come to life on the screen and they can make their programs represent their knowledge and their uniqueness.
Furthermore, coding is automatically differentiated - students can always add more to their code, and make it more complex, so no student is ever sitting in class bored when we are coding.
Debugging is an intrinsic aspect of coding and my students have shown such persistence and problem solving in working through their codes to find the errors and fixing them.. After we do a coding activity in the classroom, every single student leaves feeling like they accomplished something when they see their program working.
If you are considering integrating coding into your classroom, I highly encourage you to go for it! Start small - there are so many self-led tutorials and lesson plans online that relate to a wide variety of curriculum outcomes.
Don’t worry about having all the answers for your students - it is even better if you don’t and students have to research, collaborate and problem solve. If available in your area, bring outside experts into the classroom to lead you and your class together in a coding workshop. As you see coding work its magic in your classroom, you will see students flourish beyond your wildest expectations as they take more ownership of their learning.
Keen to bring coding into your class, but need some help to get started? Kids Code Jeunesse is running free teacher training workshops across Canada to give you the tools to teach kids about AI, ethics and coding. See when the next one in your area is.
Stacey Hopkins, M.Ed, is a Grade 6 Intensive Core French teacher at Leary's Brook Junior High in St. John's, Newfoundland. An innovative and enthusiastic educator, she is keenly interested in integrating STEAM education across all curriculum areas in order to reimagine teaching and learning to best meet the needs of tomorrow's leaders. Join her #TwitterPLN by following her @mme_hopkins.
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