Code cracks education’s DNA

The Australian government, through the Australian Curriculum, is now looking to schools to graduate students who have a good level of coding experience. The end goal being that the next generation of computer scientists will emerge and their contemporaries will have a good understanding of what they do, which will contribute to innovation and economic growth. So building a capacity to code into the DNA of current students is now a priority.

Sure, no worries folks. So how do we do this?

There are a thousand and one software applications and browser driven programs that have been developed with this in mind. Primary schools are on board and are hitting their targets. There are numerous free initiatives for primary schools, such as the Hour of Code, that have a curriculum component to them that also provide good support for teachers. Very shortly, these students will reach secondary school.

Where does that leave secondary schools of Australia?

Students, parents, school leadership teams all expect outcomes. The expectations haven’t changed but there is a significant lack in three areas – curriculum guidance, trained teachers and useful resources. These need to be addressed before secondary schools can live up to these expectations.

Why programming matters

It’s important to know why you are teaching anything as a teacher. What are the benefits to the student?  What can a student learn through programming in class?

Programming is simply creating a sequence of instructions (known as an algorithm) that makes a computer do something.

Programming is about communication. It is a language. An animated video, a game or a visual presentation has been composed by someone to communicate with other people and to interact with them.

Programming is about solving challenges. Students learn that they have the ability to figure something out. A lot of programs require students to solve problems time and again and some of the problems are truly challenging.  

Programming is about learning how to learn. Students learn how to keep themselves engaged in the problem, to become self-directed learners and not give up. They look for a solution with a peer or via an online tutorial or they search and then critically analyse results. 

Programming is about applied creative design. Students code to create meaningful products with core subject content. They apply content area knowledge in a complex and engaging environment.

The challenge for teachers

Very few teachers have a background in programming. Even those who have a grasp of programming concepts admit that the speed of technological change means that they just do not know everything. It is impossible. So teachers need to accept that it is OK not to have all of the answers. Also, the time has come when secondary teachers must acknowledge their own knowledge and skill levels in terms of digital capability and begin to address any gaps. One way to do this is to use one of the resources listed below and have some fun!

 

Try these for an understanding of coding concepts 

The Foos

The Foos is optimized for kids 5-10 years old or Prep-6 but can be played by anyone with no coding experience.

Platform: Any internet browser, Android, iPad, other iOS

 

Try these if you are ready to push the envelope

Hopscotch

Hopscotch is designed specifically for the iOS devices (similar to Scratch), where students can use drag and drop functionality to develop their own games. The tutorials available through this platform allow students to make their favourite game from scratch.

Platform: iPad, iPhone 

CodeCombat

CodeCombat is a platform for students to learn computer science while playing through a real game. This one was recently recommended by one of my parents and it is possibly one of the best learning platforms I have used. Level 1 is free and takes 2-3 hours – treat yourself and try this one out.

Platform: Any internet browser 

CodeStudio

Code studio has a wide range of materials from beginner to more advanced. My recommendation is to start with The Hour of Code: Minecraft or Star Wars – get students starting to think about the sequencing of events and then move into more advanced areas which focus on Javascript, in the App Lab.

Platform: Any internet browser, Android, iPad, other iOS

CodeHS

This one allows students and teachers to interact in an online classroom environment where teachers are able to track the progress of their students through the different levels of their coding journey. Good for Year 10 students.

Platform: Any internet browser 

Touch Develop

From Drag and Drop blocks to curly braces, the program editor adapts to your skills and allows you to grow at your own pace. Touch Develop features 3 skill levels: beginner, coder, and expert.

Platform: Any internet browser, Android, iPad, other iOS 

Unplugged

Not every teacher has the advantage of operating in a 1-1 environment on a daily basis. This is a fantastic resource to start the journey of computer science and it is all able to be done offline. The activities introduce students to Computational Thinking through concepts such as binary numbers, algorithms and data compression, separated from the distractions and technical details of having to use computers. Importantly, no programming is required to engage with these ideas!

Sphero

Sphero is an App-enabled robotic ball (retails aprox: $200) – Sphero has several programming interfaces that make meaningful content area application easy without a steep learning curve. These can be as simple or challenging as the teacher decides – students are able to design their own challenges. The Education Pack of 12 also includes a curriculum component.

Platform: Any internet browser, Android, iPad, other iOS