A “personal art of coding” mindset is key for today’s STEM instruction because computer science can be just as creative as painting or writing music, says K-12 IT leader Pam Whitlock.
Students and educators often have the misconception that there is only one “right” answer in coding and computer science, and failing to find that answer means that someone should just avoid these subjects when it comes to their academic and career aspirations, adds Whitlock, the IT department chair and a computer science instructor at the Fulton County Schools Innovation Academy near Atlanta.
It’s time for schools to move beyond traditional and complex computer science, she insists. “Coding is an art form—coding is seeking out problems in our world and designing solutions based upon the user’s needs,” Whitlock says. “There is so much room for creativity, human-centered design and flexibility, both in the problem identification and the design of the solution.”
Whitlock’s students, for instance, use their coding skills to learn topics they are studying in other classes. Her students recently programmed choose-your-own-adventure games based on historical time periods. She also encourages students to design projects that incorporate their hobbies, which may require learning a new coding language or acquiring unique supplies.
Simply getting a computer program to work is obviously a key step in the process but that’s only proof of a student’s ability to complete a specific task, says Whitlock, who will detail the “personal art of coding” in a presentation at the 2023 Future of Education Technology® Conference in New Orleans in January. Truly successful coders empathize with the future users of their programs, leverage a range of skills to create dynamic solutions, and collaborate with their team members.
“Instead of my assignments simply being additional tasks to complete, they become relevant learning tools that help students in their other classes,” Whitlock says. “When we can get them personally interested and invested in a project, the engagement naturally improves.”
Whitlock’s FETC presentation is one of several conference sessions focused on helping educators expand their understanding of how to teach coding and computer science:
- Engaging girls in coding and STEM will be the focus of a presentation by Dora Palfi, co-founder and CEO of the edtech company imagiLabs. The company was created by engineers who often found themselves the only women in the room in STEM classes and jobs.
- Educators will learn the key steps for developing a computer science curriculum that starts with teaching the youngest students basic coding skills and then building on their knowledge year after year. Participants will be able to use tools geared toward the different stages of coding in this session, which will be led by Greg Bagby, the coordinator of instructional technology at Hamilton County Schools in Tennessee, and Nikki Russell, an innovation specialist and STEM instructional coach at Tommie F. Brown Academy in Chattanooga.
- Making technology as engaging as clay or paint for young students is the goal of Gary Stager’s session, “Computer Science for Young Children in a Progressive Tradition.” Stager will show educators how computer programming can become a standard part of a young child’s creative play. “Technological fluency develops in ways not unlike literacy, yet computing experiences in school continue to be treated as a novelty, are overly theoretical, or withheld until late in secondary education,” Stager says.