Added value in helping kids learn how to code

As I consider general K-12 curricula across schools and districts, I have been advocating for the inclusion of a class in financial literacy for all students. For example, you can read about my thinking here, or here, and click here for links to some classroom resources. I believe it represents essential, daily skills that students will need later in life. Students should know, understand and apply the math behind balancing a checkbook or confirming the accuracy of a credit card statement. They should have a grasp of essential ideas behind supply and demand as it applies to the cost of goods and services, and be able to use this information when comparison shopping. They should have a grasp of the concept of principal and interest when they are ready to make a significant purchase, such as their first car.

I was reminded the other day of another key skill/class that should be included in the general K-12 curriculum: learning how to code. My experience has taught me that kids want to learn how to code. They want to know how to develop games, websites, or fun apps and then challenge their friends play them.

I discovered this when I had the opportunity to teach a technology class to a group of grade 7 and 8 students last year. In addition to the required content that we needed to cover in the class, I wanted to get a sense of the topics and skills that they desired to learn so as to tailor the course as much as possible to their self-identified interests. One topic that became overwhelmingly clear was the students’ desire to learn how to code and even develop some simple games.

Now, I have a minimal background in computer science and programming languages, but I knew that this would be a topic that would engage the students in the class and equip them with some initial skills that they could develop further. I wanted to empower them to create new games or unique programs. For these reasons alone, I was up to the challenge to learn how to teach some basic coding to my class!

Fortunately, I had learned about the Hour of Code movement earlier in the year and tried the teacher tutorial myself.

It was so simple.

I was guided each step of the way through the self-directed tutorial. If I made a mistake (and I did), then I could retry the stage and learn from my error.

I knew that my students would be able to learn from the experience, too. There were plenty of teacher notes to help me plan my lessons. These notes were developed to assist those teachers who don’t have a background in coding. This was definitely helpful so that I could be more confident in guiding the students. I also came across the school district notes to bring coding to an entire school system!

What surprised me the most was how deeply engaged the students were when I introduced the hour of code to them. They were excited to actually code and see the result of their thinking! Upon completion of the beginner tutorial, they started to explore the more intermediate options.

Even President Obama became the first President to write a line of code during the Hour of Code!

It is now a year later and I am teaching some of the same students in a different class this semester. The surprise that pleased me the most was noticing the extent that they have developed in their programming – on their own, outside of class! These students showed me the games they have developed over the year. As group, they are out to challenge each other with games that are more complex and difficult. When there is a free moment between classes, I often find them taking out their laptops to extend their thinking and practice their coding even more.

So why am I thinking about coding today?

This article on requiring computer science in schools and this article on adding coding to the elementary curriculum got me thinking again on the value of engaging students by exposing them to basic computer science. We don’t need to relegate coding as a senior elective in high school, but, rather, take advantage of student interest to learn and understanding better the tablets and phones that they are carrying around with them on a daily basis.

There is a growing research base documenting the benefits of teaching coding to children of all ages. This includes:

  • Developing logical thinking skills
  • Developing problem solving skills
  • Fostering persistence on a task
  • Communicating and collaborating for task accomplishment

These are important outcomes that will help students learn how to learn.

As such, I have modified my thinking a bit – I now believe that all students need to be taught some financial literacy as well as coding during their stay in our schools.

There are some great resources to help us get started, including those found at Code.org. Here is a thought-provoking series of blog posts on coding in the classroom from Edutopia. For example, consider this article on coding for kindergarteners. What if we helped students develop their coding abilities from a very early age, like we work to help them become proficient readers and skilled mathematicians? How might this help us better prepare students for THEIR future?

Besides – it is just plain fun to help the Angry Bird catch the pig. (You’ll have to try it here to see what I mean!)

A simple reminder on the most significant classroom innovation

OK – So the article’s title did catch my attention (just like the author said it would):

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

I thought about it a moment and made a guess. I then read the author’s response:

Learning how to learn

So true.

I believe that helping students learn how to learn is really a gift that we can offer them. It can free students to pursue interests beyond what we may do in the classroom. As such:

Learning how to learn embeds the notion of self-directedness and self-motivation as a learner.

Learning how to learn is a process and a skill that allows students to respond and grow in an increasingly changing world. I believe that this is the key to opening doors and offering a bright future to students.

It may, indeed, be the single-most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years.

It is no longer enough to simply equip students with the primary literacy and numeracy skills that have been a staple of schools for a long time. I affirm the importance of the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic, especially when they are taught and developed in the context of a rigorous cross-disciplinary curriculum. However, I have also been advocating that we have to do more to help students in their learning journey. They need to know and practice the important learning management skills, such as note-taking, test preparation, and time management. Far too often, I find that teachers are simply assuming that students will know what to do as they encounter new material in their classes.

But now in our 21st century learning context, I appreciated the reminder on four additional dimensions that we need to address in our classrooms if we truly want to help our students learn how to learn:

Students need to …

  1. Know how to access and curate information. This includes the critical 21st century fluencies such as Information Fluency, Media Fluency and Creativity Fluency.
  2. Know how to work and learn with others. This can be fostered as we help students develop their critical 21st century fluencies of Collaboration Fluency and Global Digital Citizenship.
  3. Know how to adapt to new media and different ways of thinking. I understand this to include a proficiency in Solution Fluency.
  4. Know, understand and use a variety of digital platforms (blogs, social media, learning management systems, etc.) and networks for different uses.

What this blog post reaffirmed for me was the value in teaching with the 21st century fluencies in mind, too.  I have been a strong proponent in integrating these fluencies in my teaching and have attempted to integrate these skills as part of the learning experience in the new school, too. You can read about this here. The connection between the fluencies and the learning management skills I have been advocating for so long, in addition to their value to helping students learn how to learn, became even clearer today.

Speed Debating as vibrant learning

Issue 522 is currently a hotly contested issue on the election day ballot here in Washington. The issue is multi-faceted and includes aspects of which the general public may not be aware. We explored the issues in class, and each student completed some research on an aspect that interested them from both points of view. We then participated today in a round of “speed debating.”

To complete the speed debate, the students were arranged into two circles, with one inside the other, so that two students were facing each other. The outer circle was designated as “for” the initiative, while the inner circle was “against.” The students had two minutes to debate the issue from an integrated Big History perspective: scientific, economic, political, and theological. Following the two minutes, one of the circles rotated so that each person had a new speed debating opponent, and a new speed debating round commenced. With each round, the students developed their confidence, as well as their insight, into how to articulate their position.

After a number of rotations, the students changed their debating positions such that the outer circle now became “against” the initiative while the inner circle was designated as “for.” After a few rotations, the speed debate ended with a class vote and debriefing on the issue.

There was total classroom participation in today’s speed debate, as well as the preparation for the learning experience. Overall, it was evident that the students really enjoyed the freedom to select and research an aspect from both points of view. I was happy with the depth of insight that they offered on the issue as it was clear that their research helped prepared them for the speed debating rounds, during which they had to defend both views convincingly.

Our self-assessment following the vote revealed interest in the speed debate as a classroom learning activity as well as a better understanding of the initiative process to place legislation on the ballot, not to mention a deeper understanding of the issue, too.

The value in taking a world language class

In planning for our new school, I requested that all high school students study a world language. Why? – Fluency in a world language is one of the best ways to connect with the rest of the world, and it is a first step in getting to know other peoples and cultures. It is a key skill to one of the 15 fastest growing occupations in the nation, too! This was highlighted again at: The hottest job skill is …

Challenged, yet invigorated

I have been both challenged and invigorated with my teaching of the Integrated Studies class. It has been a lot of work to integrate the big ideas of world history, Christian living, English Language Arts and the History of Scientific Thought into cohesive lessons. I find that the students are engaged and beginning to ask good questions. I can see in their faces when they understand some of the bigger connections that we are making in class. They are starting to share more in their writing, too. It has been good, also, to include a number of physical participation techniques to keep the students actively involved. Still, all this means that I am putting in some long hours planning and preparing for the interactive learning experiences – but I am noting that it is worth it! 

Link

YouTube for the classroom

Numerous teaching and learning blogs announced the big news today that YouTube is beginning to offer an education-only site of videos appropriate for use in the classroom. This site will  1) disable all comments (so there will be no distraction from other viewers’ inappropriate comments), 2) offer only related videos on topic as suggestions of similar videos (no content will be suggested that can distract students from learning), and 3) “beef up” its K-12 content, much of which will be aligned to the Common Core Standards.

In addition YouTube also reported partnering with education content-creators by investing in 100 channels that will produce original material exclusive to YouTube. This material will not be available on other video sites.

Schools need to sign up to access this service in order to receive an authentication key that will allow them to modify the YouTube URL address for the videos.

Additional advantages of this initiative include:

  • School network settings can now allow teachers and students the ability to access hundreds of thousands of free educational and learning videos while still filtering access to the general YouTube site.
  • School administrators and teachers can log in to watch any video in order to customize the content available in their school.
  • Hundreds of playlists of videos  organized by subject and grade have been developed by YouTube. These playlists can help teachers spend less time searching for the “right” video.
  • In addition, teachers can create their own playlists of videos that are viewable only within their school’s network.
  • Students cannot log in to the general YouTube site. They can only watch YouTube EDU videos plus videos their school has added.
  • All comments and related videos are disabled. Search features are limited to YouTube EDU videos.
 Some useful resources:

Video presentation on this initiative

YouTube for school

YouTube.com/education

YouTube’s Teacher’s channel – to learn how to use videos in the classroom

YouTube playlists

TED education channel

Suggestions of other videos from education organizations can also be found here.

Link

More discussion and resources on developing financial literacy in school

I have been surprised at the number of resources I finding on the topic of financial literacy. I came across this post from a teacher who actually teaches financial literacy courses in the high school. His list of resources need to be bookmarked as valuable references. For example:

FinLitTV 

TeenDollars.org

The Stock Market Game

The budget challenge simulation

Awesome Island” game focusing on decision making, credit, debit, money management, insurance, investing, etc. Everfi offers similar simulations.

The idea of an entrepreneurship class is another new one that I hadn’t thought of before, but it certainly is intriguing and could be a real-life application of coursework, too!