DA op-ed: A broader perspective on coding: It’s more than just technology
Over the past several years, interest in coding (an easy-to-implement approach to computer science) has steadily picked up momentum. For many in education, it’s become an article of faith that all students should be learning coding and that all schools should teach it.
One powerful assumption behind this is that knowing coding will ensure success in tomorrow’s careers. Further, it’s a relatively easy practice to adopt. Once internet access and laptops, tablets or other connected devices are in place, coding represents a low-cost addition with which to expand, enhance and enrich a school’s instructional technology efforts.
Still, many consider it a niche area of interest—something for technology educators who specialize in such things. It’s good to know that it’s being handled, but there’s no need to ponder it further.
However, a broader, more informed perspective can reveal unexpected potential.
Coding can serve as a catalyst for schools looking to integrate tech more meaningfully into required subjects, as well as the glue that binds together learning connections across them.
The following are just a few examples of the benefits that can result from a more holistic understanding. These foster career-oriented STEM learning, and offer much more.
Creativity and problem-solving
These are skill sets considered necessary to teach today’s students. Yet educators may not be aware of many approaches that foster them within the context of academic subjects. Coding-based activities offer wonderful options. Coding can facilitate project-based learning, encouraging adoption of both PBL and coding by teachers who can find an extensive body of free how-to tutorials, activities, sharing galleries and competitions online.
Good examples are Scratch projects. Developed by MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, Scratch is a free coding resource students can use to create standards-based work they can share with others at school or around the world.
Coding-facilitated, cross-curricular projects can serve as a framework to integrate the elements of STEM instruction so that students experience science, technology, engineering and math holistically, emulating real-life situations.
Another great approach is robotics, which provides rich opportunities for students to learn and apply coding skills. It’s also steeped in engineering, which is something that can be elusive to educators looking for opportunities to foster its learning, particularly in a hands-on, real-world context.
Creating coded routines provides an easy-to-see and understand connection between the code given to the robot and the result it produces in the robot’s behavior. It’s a perfect way to demonstrate learning and understanding. Considering the very high level of student engagement it offers, educators are wise to consider adding robotics to the instructional program. What’s the cost? There are free and low-cost robotics simulation resources available, as well as actual robots that can be shared among students and can be affordable.
Here is one more school example: At Ditmas JHS (IS 62) in Brooklyn, New York, two teachers, in partnership with school literacy coach Rose Reissman, engage students in creative writing-oriented projects through which they learn how to create and apply code.
The school’s technology teacher, Angelo Carideo, who has a screenwriting background, has created a storytelling project in which coding functions for his students as a framework and tool set for the creation of literary characters.
Using a rubric to guide them, the students create a protagonist as well as a setting and storyline that includes allies, antagonists, a backstory and a plot arc.
Social studies teacher Michael Downes has his students use their coding-related storytelling skills to retell vignettes from American history in his colonial brochures project.
Finally, these activities can generate a good deal of word-of-mouth buzz, deepening the sense of school community. Exhibits to share student creative works, including those that are virtual and code-based, are traditional school spirit-boosting efforts. As a result, student robotics and esports gaming competitions are up and coming contenders for the attention and affection of today’s students.
Mark Gura taught in Harlem, New York, for two decades. He then spent five years as a staff and curriculum developer for the central office of the New York City Department of Education, and he was director of the Office of Instructional Technology, supervising professional development citywide. Read more at markgura.blogspot.com.