Coding: A Blast from the Past

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


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.


Teddies, Tech & PBL

I’ll never forget the first time I learned about CBL (Challenge-Based Learning) in the classroom. It was while working in Indonesia with Jane Ross, and I learnt about her multi-touch eBook Challenge Based Learning in IndonesiaIt’s hard to believe this book was published just 3 years ago (2012) because already technology has evolved so much!

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Jane Ross’ free Multi-touch eBook available through iBooks


Students were using just an iPod Touch to document their investigation into ‘Sharing the Planet’ and understanding how resources can be more evenly distributed. In this eBook she details her scaffolded approach to tuning students into the concept, posing questions to relevant real-world problems in Indonesia, and the steps students took to find solutions and help the local landfill community. Groups of students identified 3 main issues and used these problems to drive their inquiries and find solutions. What I also love is how she took a transdisciplinary approach and math, literacy, social studies and even music were embedded into the learning process.

Below are 3 screenshots from the eBook which highlight the transdisciplinary approach:

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eBook Screenshot 1: Looking at one issue in the landfill community: Not Enough Light
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eBook Screenshot 2: Students investigate solutions using problem-solving and other math skills.
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eBook Screenshot 3: Another issue in the landfill community that children investigated: Not enough safe shelter.


I highly recommend any primary/PYP or middle school/MYP teacher to download this free eBook and get inspired in their own classrooms.

My past experiences with Project Based Learning

Since learning about CBL I’ve been working to embed more project-based learning experiences in my own classroom. Two years ago, Jane Ross and I led a collaborative eBook project with Yayasan Santi Rama, a local school for the deaf – and the traditional task of co-publishing a story was enhanced and redefined to encompass video footage of students signing in Indonesian Sign Language. The final product was a trilingual eBook, showcased in the below video:

A more detailed account of the process can be found here on my personal blog: Collaborative eBooks with Indonesian Sign Language.

The Buck Institute for Education defines PBL (Project-Based Learning) as the following:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills – The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question – The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry – Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information.
  • Authenticity – The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact – or speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice – Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection – Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision – Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

In my current role as EdTech Coach I’ve been collaborating with another Coetailer, @Joyw to bring Project-Base Learning opportunity to a few Grade 1 and Kindergarten classrooms. We have signed up with Pana Asavavatana‘s Traveling Teddybear Project and just this week introduced the idea to a grade 1 class. This project connects schools and students around the globe using Twitter, Skype and Easy Blogger Jr as means for communicating and sharing about Freddy’s adventures in the classroom. Since our bear, Freddy, isn’t due to arrive until February we are using this time to build questions and inquiry around the bear and all his various locations.

To tune students in, we gave students the opportunity to ask questions to find out who the Mystery Guest would be. Joy led them on a questioning journey by presenting a map and going through the Inquire & Connect cycle, as detailed on her blog. Afterwards, I gave them three clues using Google Slides:

Students then had opportunities to share their connections and prior knowledge about teddy bears in general. This innovative project fits perfectly in the context of the KG & G1 curriculum at our school and also meets the PBL criteria as outlined by BIE.

PBL Criteria #1: Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills: 

Grade 1 students are learning about ‘Homes’ and have already explored different kinds of homes around the world. After students guessed that a Teddy (named Freddy) is coming to visit, we briefly explored his blog and looked at different places he had been (Singapore, Mongolia and far). Students are also learning about how they organise themselves, and over the next few weeks we will develop goals with them and prepare a plan for when Freddy visits. This project also allows for transdisciplinary skills to be practiced such as: communication, research and social skills as they find information about Freddy the Teddy and practice digital citizenship skills on a public forum.

Further investigation & planning needed…

Since we are still in the ‘Tuning-In’ phase of inquiry, we have yet to develop a question (PBL Criteria #2) that could drive Freddy’s visit while he is here. As we go deeper into this project I will document how we address the various criteria of PBL in the context of our Grade 1 and Kindergarten classrooms.


Fostering ConnectEdness

tweet connection

CC Image by Eric Fischer World travel and communications recorded on Twitter

When I think about Connectedness in schools, and the importance of providing students with a voice, and opportunity for action, I think of a little 6 year old boy, who wanted to build a well in Africa.

His name was Ryan, and his story is a perfect example of the power of suggestion, and how important it is to support and promote our student-led initiatives:

“One day in January 1998, I was sitting in my Grade One classroom. My teacher, Mrs. Prest, explained that people were sick and some were even dying because they didn’t have clean water. She told us that some people walked for hours in Africa and sometimes it was just to get dirty water.

All I had to do was take 10 steps from my classroom to get to the drinking fountain and I had clean water. Before that day in school, I figured everyone lived like me. When I found out this wasn’t the case, I decided I had to do something about it.”

~ Ryan’s Well Story

The most amazing thing is, this all happened in the 90s. Before google images, before youtube, before skype…just at the beginning of email as a common form of communication. The teacher was able to inspire a call for action in a 6-year old, which eventually led to a thriving non-profit organisation, Ryan’s Well.

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Screenshot from Ryan’s Well  Website

The video below details some of the challenges Ryan faced as he embarked on this journey…one of the greatest challenges being access to information and contacting the right people. This little boy had to connect with organisations, community leaders and media through telephone, letters and face-to-face visits.

This story is a wonderful inspiration for the impact teachers and students can have on the global community. In 2015, we have the power of knowledge, and fast, easy access to connecting with people, organisations and communities.

One of the greatest ways to inspire students in today’s classroom is by helping them build their online profile, and explore and learn from other students. Blogs are one way to connect with other classrooms, but Twitter provides more focused communities that students can engage with and learn from. In PYP schools, the Grade 5 PYP Exhibition is the culminating event in a primary student’s life. They are expected to show ‘action’, and what better opportunity for them to dabble in connectEDness.

The Twitter Hashtag #pypx is a shared space for students to see what other Grade 5 PYP students are producing for their action.

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Screenshot from #pypx on Twitter

A 2005 article taken from ASCD Education Leadership discusses connectedness on a basic level in the classroom:

“Although school connectedness might suggest smaller class sizes, the classroom’s culture seems to matter more than its size does. Effective teachers can create connectedness in the classroom in a number of ways. When teachers make learning meaningful and relevant to their students’ lives, students develop a stake in their own education. When teachers create a clear classroom structure with consistent expectations for behavior and performance, they provide a healthy setting in which students can exercise autonomy and practice decision-making skills. Teachers build connectedness in the classroom when they encourage team learning exercises. Cooperative learning tends to break down social isolation by integrating student teams across gender, academic ability, and ethnicity. Rewarding a variety of student achievements and recognizing student progress—not only top performance—are also important components.” ~ Robert W. Blum

This theory of connectedness now has the potential to extend beyond classroom walls, providing more opportunity for students to connect with like-minded peers in other schools, states and countries. The potential for collaboration and cooperative learning and is greater than ever before. Yet many schools are hesitant to provide students access to these external learning environment.

Blum, of ASCD EL, writes: “teachers cannot create school connectedness on their own. Without a supportive administration, teachers will not be able to effectively support their students.”

If we hope to support and prepare students for a connected world, all stakeholders in a child’s education need to be involved in providing space for connectedness. I’ve been looking to try and find examples of students who have taken ownership of an action project the same way the Ryan did, before the explosion of digital spaces. So far, I’ve found the WKCD (What Kids Can Dowebsite which hosts a series of action-research projects initiated by students. There are also many sites where students can join and participate in a cause such as EcoKids and inspirational articles and stories showcased on National Geographic about students taking action. However, I had difficulty finding a hub where students could connect and initiate projects easily. It still seems it’s up to the school and teacher to instigate, support and maintain persistence for any student wanting to make a difference in the world. So, with that in mind, we need to ensure we are enabling and empowering students to find a purpose and drive to connect and learn from each other.