Coding and the thinking behind it

by Geralt (Pixabay) - license CC0
by Geralt (Pixabay) – license CC0

There’s a buzz in the world of ed-tech: coding is touted as “the new literacy.” All students are being exhorted to learn coding or computer programming. The UK has changed its curriculum to make Computing (including programming and other Computer Science topics) replace ICT as a core subject. Various states in the US are making Computer Science courses count towards graduation. Tech companies and leaders are encouraging schools to teach programming to students.

Why Coding?

There are two main reasons why there’s an increased emphasis on teaching programming in schools:

Technological Literacy/Competency

Teachers have been teaching students in “information technology” (or ICT, “information & communication technology”) for years. Over the years, however, this has become a confused and sometimes weakened area of instruction, with overemphasis on basic tools such as word processing and other such skills. As instruction in all areas involves technology more, these skills are increasingly taught (and rightly so!) integrated with other learning.

As IT/ICT has become more embedded, programming has been viewed as the new area of technological literacy. Students who learn how to program computers (or code web pages with HTML) are really literate in using computers, getting them to do what they want instead of just using applications & doing what others (who know programming) allow them to do.

Thinking Skills

If there are any justified criticisms of teaching programming to students, it’s that the emphasis on coding is too limited. Coding is specifically writing instructions that a computer can understand …and this might be a useful skill, but it’s not one that everyone really really really needs. Instead, the emphasis is/should be on Computational Thinking: analyzing problems and breaking them down into logical solutions. This type of thinking is particularly essential in programming, but it’s also vital for mathematical problem-solving, scientific analysis or other logical problem-solving.

What’s ICS doing?

ICS is no newcomer to the instruction of coding/programming! We’ve been promoting this with students (and families!) for years, and every year we expand our work. Here are three areas where we are currently taking action:

Computing/Computer Science courses

Over the past few years, we have modified our curriculum and course offerings to provide more instruction to students in programming and computational thinking.

In the Elementary School, computer skills classes have included more programming activities for students, including building programs in Scratch, coding geometric artwork in TurtleArt, building webpages with HTML, and more. Younger students have used iPad apps (including the new ScratchJr). Meanwhile, robotics lessons in both classes and after-school activities have been run to have students learn how programming can make machines do physical work.

In the Middle School, we have added elective courses in Programming & Computer Science, Robotics and Web Development. Students have learned HTML, Scratch and Greenfoot (a version of Java). In all those courses, students learn computational thinking and coding skills. We’ve also run after-school activities in Robotics and programming using the Arduino.

In the High School, we’ve added electives in Programming and Applications Development. Students have learned programming using the Python and Processing (a version of Java) languages, and have built applications using LiveCode. We’re planning to expand our use of robotics in the High School, including starting a MS/HS team to compete in the ISSEA STEM competition this year.

Hour of Code/CS Education Week (and more!)

For some time, the second week of December, which has been designated Computer Science Education Week in honor of Admiral Grace Hopper, an amazing early pioneer in programming and Computer Science. (Watch this to learn more about this impressive woman.) Last year, a group of tech industry leaders introduced the “Hour of Code” during CSEd Week, which got millions of students to create programs during one week, and spawned more activities afterwards. The program is expanding this year, aiming to reach 100 million students all around the world.

Last year, ICS participated in the Hour of Code across the grades. Read about last year’s ICS Hour of Code hereThis year, we’re making plans for a bigger, better and longer coding experience for our students. This is being led by a group of students who took the initiative to take on this task. They want a fun and rewarding experience for all students in building computer programs, and they’ve got some great ideas. We’ll kick off during CS Ed Week in December and then do some great programming in 2015. Watch this space and the Yezare Samint for more info coming up!

CoderDojo

One of the items of feedback we got from students participating in the Hour of Code last year was that we needed more opportunities outside of classes for students to learn and play with programming. So we decided to launch a weekly CoderDojo to give students (and parents!) a chance to learn some programming in a relaxed and fun environment. It ran successfully on Saturdays throughout the second semester of last school year, and we are re-launching it this year in November. CoderDojo’s are designed to be fun, safe, informal learning environments where people can learn, experiment, share and show off their work. Give it a try – you might find you enjoy programming!

 

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