Coding: A Blast from the Past

Coding: The Way of the Future or a Blast from the Past?

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As 2015 draws to a close (and Course 4 does as well), I’m drawn to the trends in tech integration moving simultaneously toward and away from the future.

I am gearing up for an exciting 2nd Annual Launch of Hour of Code at our school. While this worldwide initiative may seem ‘new’ we are actually going back to the basics of computer programming…something which used to be part of the curriculum, that now schools are desperately trying to make room for again. What excites and intrigues me about this year’s HOC studio, is the ‘introduction’ to JavaScript, which actually originated 20 years ago (Wikipedia).

Last year they only had ‘blockly’ options for students to explore coding, and it’s great that they are allowing students a chance to see under the ‘hood’ of the blockly pieces what the actual code looks like.

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Screenshot from Hour of Code Studio

 

The BBC explored this trending in ‘coding’ recently in its article Coding The Future: 

Programming is changing briskly.Coding in the cloud is one trend likely to carry on, spreading collaborators across continents. So also is the explosion of new languages, like Facebook’s Hack scripting language or Apple’s Swift, alongside classical tongues like C and Java. We’re likely to learn to code younger, and differently. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) child-friendly programming language Scratch has 6.2 million registered users.The Internet of Things, driverless cars, and drones will all yield more programmable platforms – but will coding for your cappuccino maker drastically change programming? And what will the coding workplace be like, when today’s Raspberry rugrats have grown into tomorrow’s programming prodigies?

Currently, I run a Digital Design Club for Grades 3-5 and already I am looking at multiple platforms for students to explore design and coding. Many of them are already familiar with Hopscotch and Scratch, but more so for the interactive games they can play. There still seems to be some gaps between the principles of coding, and the animations/games created through coding apps and platforms.

One way I’ve tried to help students grasp what coding/programming truly means is through ‘unplugged’ coding: using non-tech tools to teach a tech-based concept. Last year I started Hour of Code club for grades 1-3 and started the club with a variation of a lesson from Computer Science Unplugged. The first activity I modified was ‘Image Representation’ or what I called ‘Pixel Coding’. I tuned them in using Pixar animated characters and talking about the word Pixel. Many of them were familiar with the term from Minecraft so were immediately engaged. Then students had the opportunity to practice ‘coding’ an image. Below is a screenshot from the lesson I did with students:

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Students were most engaged in this activity because it was a concrete way to understand how each image on a screen is constructed.

Although we are moving towards more globally connected classrooms, I find it interesting that we are reverting to ‘old school’ skills such as the basics of computer programming. Now that so many programs are realistic, there is something exciting about go back to primitive basics and understanding how it all works. It makes me realise how progressive everything is and how important it is to maintain connections to where we (and technology) evolved from.

SO to answer the question: Will education as we know it change because of technology? Education is always and has always been evolving…the same way our world has been and is evolving. As this clever Edudemic post illustrates, education has been evolving since education first existed:

Classrooms have come a long way. There’s been an exponential growth in educational technology advancement over the past few years. From overhead projectors to iPads, it’s important to understand not only what’s coming next but also where it all started. (Edudemic)

It frightens me that there are movements against technology, in such schools as the London Acorn Schools :

According to school rules, children are not allowed television at all before the age of 12, after that they are allowed documentaries that have previously vetted by parents. They cannot watch films until they are 14; the internet is banned completely for everyone under 16 – at home and and at school – and computers are only to be used as part of the school curriculum for over-14s. (Guardian)

In my opinion, this seems like an extreme response to a reality that is only going to be that much more shocking when children finally do have access to films, TV and the internet. Rather than teaching students strategies for coping with digital spaces and showcasing the positive aspects of a connected classroom, they are turning media and technology into ‘forbidden fruit’. Furthermore, there is an even greater need for young adults to be digitally literate, with strong skills in multi-literacies such as information literacy, tech literacy, and media literacy. 

If we want education to prepare students for a technologically rich world, we need to embrace what currently exists in our reality. We need to ensure students have a chance to practice citizenship in digital spaces and also apply time-management strategies in their personal and school lives.

 

10 Replies to “Coding: A Blast from the Past”

  1. Hi Jocelyn,
    I really want to thank you for this informative post! Coding is something that I have been wanting to bring into my Learning Commons, but I have hesitated because I know literally nothing about coding. Your post has shown me that this is something I really can and should do. I am a visual learner, so the images you included were really helpful! I actually remember taking a coding class during my teaching program, but it was so long ago (back in the 90’s) that I don’t remember a single thing they taught me. You’ve motivated me to get on Scratch and start learning to code . I look forward to bringing this into our Learning Commons soon!

  2. Hi Laurie

    So glad I was able to help! I highly recommend checking out Hour of Code as I mentioned, as it did help me understand the basics of coding. I’ve also written a post about introducing coding in early years (3-5 years olds) which you can read here: https://jocelynsutherland.com/2015/05/21/decoding-coding-in-the-pyp/ Look forward to hearing how your coding journey goes! Also check out @chezvivian ‘s Coetail Blog on coding:) https://www.coetail.com/chezvivian/2014/06/03/infinite-loop-coding-club-update-1-2/

  3. Hi Jocelyn, I really enjoyed reading your post and the points that it raised. I particular liked how you emphasised that even though we are thinking about the future and where education is heading that there is value in knowing and reflecting on where we have come from. I think some ideas and practices cycle around in a good way, or old ideas are mashed up with the new and transformed. Like history, there are lessons to be learned from studying the past.

    Although I have given students opportunities to explore the Hour of Code tutorials in the past couple of years I have not participated in the Hour of Code global initiative during the week of 7 – 13th December. I plan to do so this year and am excited to participate. Do you have any tips for a novice?

    I’m also thinking about what to do after the Hour of Code. I’m anticipating that students will be highly engaged and will continue to explore the resources and tutorials at home. But I don’t want it to be an isolated event. What would you consider to be a next step after participating in the Hour of Code to keep the momentum going?

    Have you found ways to integrate the skills learned through coding into your units or do you tend to use it in a separate capacity?

    Sorry for all the questions, but your post got me thinking about how to leverage coding in the classroom.

  4. Hi @tracyblair. So glad to hear you will introduce HOC to your students! It was brand new at my school last year and only about 10% of classes (and teachers) participated. If you can get admin involved and encourage as many teachers to try it as possible, you should have a positive turnout. One way we are trying it this year is to introduce the HOC website to teachers during the first 10 mins of the staff meeting. Give them a chance to explore the sites after giving a brief intro of the different activities available for all ages. To continue the momentum, I ran an Hour of Code club from Jan-June last year, for grades 1-3. It was challenging at first but the students loved it. This year, I opted for older students and we have been able to accomplish a lot more due to the independence and reading levels of the students. I’ve renamed the club ‘Digital Design” so it encompasses 3D printing too. I would recommend trying the teacher dashboard on HOC studio here: https://code.org/dashboard-update AND definitely DOCUMENT the journey for next year (iMovie promo video perhaps??) and make sure to show teachers how to print certificates for students (included in HOC site too). Have fun!

  5. Oh and @tracyblair, to answer your Qs about skills, as I am EdTech coach it really depended on how far the classroom teacher wanted to take the coding. As I mentioned in my previous comment, we explored coding in more depth in EY2 (4 year olds) and G1…making connections to math and the unit of inquiry (see here: https://jocelynsutherland.com/2015/05/21/decoding-coding-in-the-pyp/)…and G5 paired with G1 buddies and learnt problem-solving skills too (https://jocelynsutherland.com/2015/03/09/exploring-bluebots-coding-with-ey-g5/). If you can make connections to math, there are more opportunities for embedding coding into your math lessons/units.

  6. Yes! I totally agree with you and the extreme response there is to coding (or actually to digital integration) as I think it shows mostly the fear in those people than in the actual threat that coding will have on children. It makes me think of a conversation I had with my friend who teaches Kindergarten, and she said she is always surprised at her colleagues who think a lesson idea might be “too hard” for their KG students but really if you give them a chance, they can do it. It’s about learning, throwing yourself into it and trusting.

    Next week I am introducing coding to my students, not full out as it will be my first time but with a fun lesson I think they’ll enjoy, as will I. My friend & colleague @leahbortolin shared it with me: https://csedweek.org/files/CSEDrobotics.pdf I’m excited to test it out.

    Thanks for your inspiration and information! NKS

    1. Hi @nkittoswitzer Thanks for sharing that fantastic link! How did those coding activities go in your classroom? Are you continuing with coding as part of maths integration? I’ve also found some great coding math sites that could be embedded depending on your unit of study (https://www.codebymath.com/index.php/welcome/lesson_menu) This site “Code by Math” makes connections to concepts like Square Roots, multiplication/division, fractions and graphing..just to name a few!

      Hope you continue to document your students’ learning and your journey in EdTech…I look forward to reading more on your COETAIL blog!

  7. Hi Jocelyn,
    What a great post. I really like the clear links that you make between online and offline coding. It is also very interesting how you bring it all back to where technology began. I think technology is changing at such a rapid pace that some times it is difficult to keep up with the new trends and new ideas. It makes me think about this article from Edutopia https://www.edutopia.org/blog/integrate-tech-keeps-changing-todd-finley
    One of the major take aways from your blog, though, was how important it is to have an understanding of how technology began. Take it back to basics. If we are to give children the best possible start in life we have to give them a complete understanding of what they are using, how it all fits together, and how to create. This will truly empower the children we are working with. I really like this video https://youtu.be/YqRXgKKtoNg with Ali Partovi, who does an amazing job of explaining why children should code.
    I am trying to think about different ways of incorporating coding into my classroom.
    We have played around with Scratch and the children have really enjoyed this process. We are taking part in the Hour of Code too. The Pixel coding activity is a brilliant idea and one I will be borrowing for my Friday afternoon lesson. I think the Mine-crafter’s in my class will love it. Thanks for sharing your blast from the past! Cheers, Joel

  8. Hi @bevansjoel and thanks for your comment. How is coding going in your classroom? Thank you so much for your feedback and also those useful links..I really agree with the comment in the Edutopia article about Interactive Whiteboards (something every classroom has, but not every student benefits from), discussing how IWB lessons (and other edtech lessons) need to follow the recommended processing standards (recommended by NCTM):

    *Building communities and communication
    *Making connections
    *Representing understanding
    *Exploring with materials
    *Child-centered tasks

    The common misconception about EdTech is that it simply ‘Substitutes’ rather than Augments teaching and learning. I hope you have found a way to purposefully embed coding in your classroom…and if so I hope you choose to post about it on your Coetail Blog! I shared a “Code by Math” site with a G5 teacher above which may also be useful if your students are interested in ‘dissecting apps’ (as Ali so eloquently put it) https://www.codebymath.com/index.php/welcome/lesson_menu Thanks for your thoughts and look forward to connecting more via Coetail & Twitter 🙂

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