Coding for the Future

By Ben Grundy
My recent involvement in a student Code Camp run by Code Avengers opened my eyes to the benefits of coding with kids and the reasons why we, as teachers, need to offer more opportunities to code in school. With direct links to math and language, along with the fact that coding promotes problem solving, logical reasoning and analytical thinking, there are more than enough reasons why teachers should be introducing this skill to their students.

Code is the language that runs all the technology that we use in our lives. There are many different coding and programming languages involved in the development of websites, apps, software, wearable technologies, and so on. Technology is increasingly infiltrating every part of our lives, and yet the huge majority of people have no idea how this technology works or how it was created. The demand for skilled programmers has already outweighed the supply, and consumers are accustomed to rapid advances in everyday technologies. The video below is an example of what the industry envisions for our future. It is exciting, but we need more skilled coders and programmers for this vision to be realized.

In today's schools, teachers often undertake the ‘I can't do this’ attitude because ‘I just don't have time’. There is enough to 'get through' already that adding anything else to the school day seems all but impossible. So how can we expose kids to coding while maintaining the learning outcomes we’re expected to teach?

Writing code involves a wide range of skills that address many of our learning outcomes for language and math, and can be applied to any area of the curriculum. There is even one teacher who has applied coding to poetry. In this example, eighth grade design students had been learning to use a computer programming language called Processing. They applied these skills to the language class where they created random poem generators.  The results were often quite interesting. Let’s take a look at what it takes to incorporate coding into classrooms.

Getting Started
Getting young kids going with code starts with building their logical reasoning and their step-by-step problem solving, among other thinking skills. Sounds challenging? Thankfully there are a number of apps and websites that help to develop these skills in surprisingly fun and rewarding ways. One that stands out is LightBot, which is available online and for iOS and Android. Essentially, the idea is to move the robot from the start position to the finish position where he will light up. His movements are guided by the user's directional input. This quickly builds into loops, or repeated instruction, among other concepts that are easily applied to more advanced programming at a later stage. Similar games like Kodable and Cargo Bot also teach beginner programming skills.

Next Steps
The games above are great ways to develop the mental exercise behind coding. Now it's time to start introducing the language of coding. If students are ready for it, you could certainly get them on board with online tutorials such as Code Avengers or Codecadamy. However, students may need a bridge before jumping to this level of coding. This is where Scratch or Tynker come in to play. While Tynker is geared more towards schools in that it lets teachers set up a class and provide tutorials, both websites offer students the opportunity to learn more advanced programming abilities, without having to know commands. Both operate using drag 'n drop commands from a set list that allows users to create games, animated stories and more. Click the animations below to see a simple example of Scratch and Tynker in action.

'Real' Coding
The final step before students are ready to start building websites, apps, games and so on, is to introduce the formal languages of code. The good thing is that as teachers, we don't need to be expert coders to do this. In fact, you could easily get away without knowing any code as long as you promote a positive learning environment where students are free to support each other and use the internet to problem solve.

In my Code Camp, the room was abuzz with focused chatter and productive discussions. Students diligently worked through the challenges presented to them, including manipulating website graphics, designing JavaScript games and web development using HTML and CSS. When they encountered a challenge that was beyond their trial and error problem solving skills, they would turn to the person next to them to seek advice, Google search a solution, or review previously learned skills to push through the current challenge. Despite starting at 8am, the students persistently pushed through the end of the school day and were still eagerly writing code at the 5pm finish time.

Through the use of online tutorials such as Code Avengers and Codecadamy, students are able to work through well designed and engaging step-by-step lessons that take them from the basics to advanced coding at their own pace. Both services offer a free Level 1 Tutorial in a number of languages and then require a paid subscription to advance further. Code Avengers offers schools a great package that provides a teacher dashboard where teachers can view student progress, usernames and so on.

In a world that is increasingly evolving around the use of technology and software, the need for skilled engineers to write code continues to grow. As such, we need to start preparing our students for their future by giving them the opportunities to learn the skills necessary to be successful. With so many amazing resources available to help students and teachers learn how to write code, there's no excuse not to get started.

Photos by Egmond Boon; Scratch image by andresmh


Ben Grundy currently works as an elementary school Educational Technology Coach at the Canadian International School in Singapore. He has worked as Coach and classroom teacher in International Baccalaureate schools in Australian and Singapore for the last 10 years. He has served as an advisory board member for the 2012 NMC Technology Outlook > Singaporean K-12 Education. He blogs at http://bengrundy.wordpress.com and tweets at @bgrundy.
 

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