I consider myself a fairly techie teacher. However, until recently I hadn’t really tried my hand at coding or robotics. Well, I had, but I had lost interest as I quickly felt as though I was out of my depth. So, I did what I always do when I really want to learn something about teaching, I go to a colleague that has the knowledge and I try it WITH the students. Collaborative inquiry.
Until recently, I didn’t see what the big deal was or why it was important to teach coding to students. Yeah, playing with robots is fun but what does that have to do with curriculum? When I started working with and learning coding along side students I had a change in mindset. There is a lot of math, strategic planning and visualization in coding. Coding may not always directly relate to curriculum content-that is true. However, in terms of teaching students about the deep learning competencies, coding is key. If you aren’t sure what I mean by the deep learning competencies; they are referred to as the 6 C’s. Here is a link to the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning paper but I have extracted a summary of the 6 C’s for a quick reference:
Character: Character refers to qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability, and honesty.
Citizenship: Thinking like global citizens, considering global issues based on a deep understanding of diverse values with genuine interest in engaging with others to solve complex problems that impact human and environmental sustainability.
Collaboration: Collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team-related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decision together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others.
Communication: Communication entails mastery of three fluencies:digital, writing and speaking tailored for a range of audiences.
Creativity: Having an ‘entrepreneurial eye’ for economic and social opportunities, asking the right questions to generate novel ideas, and demonstrating leadership to pursue those ideas into practice.
Critical Thinking: Critically evaluating information and arguments, seeing patterns and connections, constructing meaningful knowledge and applying it in the real world.
I reflected on these 6 C’s as I wrote the learning skills for my grade 4/5 students this year. I spend the most time on my reports creating the Learning Skills for each student. They are personal and they reflect each individual student. As a parent, it is what I am most interested in reading about my own child. The 6 C’s are competencies not only for school, but for life. While students were exploring coding I had them working in pairs or small groups to give them the opportunity to communicate, collaborate and show leadership. When the code didn’t work, they were able to go back and find the error and correct it and try it again with results right away. Sometimes they found it painstaking and I had to let them work through that and they were glad in the end when I didn’t give them the easy way out and they solved things on their own. When they learned something in coding, they quickly wanted to share their learning with other students. I gave basic instruction about the program to start using a youtube tutorial and then let the students go. Students who often don’t do well in groups with “typical” academic tasks often excelled as leaders in coding because it is a divergent way of thinking and they had a self-check strategy built into the task. It was incredible to witness the amount of learning that was taking place.
You don’t have to have robots to code. There are online coding websites that teach kids to code such as code.org and Scratch. The students even as young as grade 3 are easily able to use these sites to code. Scratch Jr. is available for younger students. The sites have great tutorial videos and somehow the students seem to just start discovering and creating things intuitively. They begin helping each other when they see that someone has created something cool and ask the creator to show them how to do it too.
I am proud to say that I can now code a square, star and a small obstacle course using blocks and a Sphero robot. My students discover new things every day and share them with me. It is definitely a new age in teaching.