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 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!)


My day at the Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy

I was fortunate to attend the one-day Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy in Bellevue yesterday. This was a good event to learn about some new tools as well as improve my skill set on some of the tools I am already using at school.

I was glad that our hosts and presenters were all experienced classroom teachers who were proficient in the different tools. They could relate to how we may use the various tools differently in the classroom than in a business environment. In particular, I appreciated how they could share actual implementation stories from their schools and classrooms, as this helped give me new ideas to consider in my own teaching. This part was inspiring. My lunch conversation on using Yammer within the building or district was insightful since I was finally able to talk with an experienced teacher who could explain it in action and demonstrate its usefulness as a resource for teaching and learning.

Even as an Office 365 school, I did not know that Microsoft offered a number of additional free resources for the classroom. I was happy to learn about the Microsoft Educator Network and its wide range of resources, tutorials, lesson plans and professional learning community. This is a site that I have bookmarked and will discover more. It is also a good complement to the resources from the Microsoft in Education site that I was already aware of and had accessed from time to time.

I was keen to learn more about using OneNote in the classroom. The group task in creating a reading assignment using OneNote sparked a number of ideas for my own classroom, especially since we are connected with Office 365 accounts. This could help me as I strive to teach and learn in a paperless environment. In fact, I am already thinking about sharing out resources and lesson notes through OneNote, and will work on setting that up in time for my new second semester class.

I was intrigued with the new Office Mix and will have to explore this more. It appears to be a great tool for making our presentations more interactive. This may help me improve the way I make presentations, but I can see how useful it will be for my students as they work on developing their creative and media fluencies. They will love using it!

Finally, I was very happy that I was able to attend the MIE Teacher Academy with a number of my colleagues. We are now able to share our common experience with the rest of the building faculty and look for ways to access these tools in support of student learning across grade levels.

15 important reminders

The title caught my attention:

When not to use technology: 15 things that should stay simple in education

I agree with the author that we know better than to use technology for technology’s sake. An unfortunate pressure that some teachers face when their school invests in new educational technology is that they are asked to substantiate the heavy financial investment with student academic achievement gains that can be attributed to the use of technology, thus demonstrating a good return on investment.

While there have been researched and documented benefits in integrating technology with instruction, this article was a good reminder that certain aspects of using technology for learning need to remain “simple” to help students in their learning.

Of the 15 reminders, numbers 4 and 5 resonated deeply with me:

#4 – Don’t use technology when it decreases student interaction.

Technology as a tool can lead to incredible social connections for learning. The author rightly notes that technology can also reduce the amount of face-to-face interaction because people are “connected” online. We need to remember the important value of interacting, and learning, in a physical learning community. This is partially behind my thinking why it was so important to include on-campus classes in our hybrid community.

#5 – Don’t use technology when it reduces the chance of failure.

I believe that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process, and ideally, an important step in self-discovery, too. In fact, I often encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes as part of their learning. This can help them arrive at a deeper level of understanding and learning. For these reasons alone, we shouldn’t simply rely on technology as an “easy way” to arrive an answer. Students need the challenge and feel the joy of success when they overcome and learn through their failures.

These are two important reminders. Why don’t you check out the remaining reminders? Do you agree with the list? Which ones resonate most with you?


S. Briggs – When not to use technology: 15 Things that should stay simple in education.

Let’s do an “exploriment”!

The weather was crisp, cool and clear last weekend when I went out with my family for a walk through the woods alongside the river. We stopped regularly to pick-up fallen leaves, examine tree trunks or toss pebbles into the water. What I enjoyed watching the most was how my daughter carefully investigated and asked questions about what she saw. She wanted to know more and learn about the growth cycle of trees now that they were losing their leaves, the process of animal hibernation, and the use of an old railroad trestle that we happened upon. When we were by the river side, she said it:

Let’s do an exploriment!

What a great word to hint at the learning that was taking place!

She wanted to continue exploring the riverbank for natural debris that she could toss into the river and experiment with different weights and materials. I loved how she wanted to combine the discovery of learning (exploration) with a reasoned inquiry (experimentation) to create her “exploriment”! It was great fun, too!

Back at home, I wondered later what the classroom would be like if I more deliberately fostered an “exploriment” attitude to learning? I asked myself if I sufficiently allow student exploration of ideas, materials, and passions? (Our learning from a question week was insightful.) Do I encourage them to test and experiment new ideas? How would this impact overall student engagement for learning? Would the classroom become more vibrant? Would my teaching practice become more vibrant?

I have to believe that the answer would be ‘yes’!

My resolution (once again) is to try my best as we ‘exploriment’ together in the classroom. I look forward to sharing my classroom ‘exploriment’ with a trebuchet after Thanksgiving break.

How do you know if you are a leader?

Leadership is not about experience, education, or talent. It’s about choosing to lead.      -Michael Hyatt

I enjoy following Michael Hyatt’s blog where his tagline is “Helping leaders leverage influence.” One of his recent podcasts offered 12 ways to know whether or not you are a leader. This was a good list to review and apply to my own situation. Am I exhibiting the qualities and mindset that he suggests, especially as it applies to leadership for learning?

A few qualities jumped out to me:

#1 – You long to make a difference.

#2 – You’re dissatisfied with the status quo.

#5 – You acknowledge what is but inevitably ask what could be.

These first three have been at the heart of what I am trying to do in the classroom and with the new school.

I remain convinced that we need to change our thinking and approaches to teaching and learning in order to be more responsive to the needs that students have today. We live in a society and culture that has changed dramatically in the last few years. Unfortunately our approaches to teaching and school have not.

  • We need to engage students in their learning by honoring their interest and initiative to learn. We need to envision a learning space as one in which students are dynamic and passionate participants in the learning process.
  • We need to equip students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help them face an uncertain future with confidence and preparedness. Our teaching needs to address the headware and heartware needed for their future.  It needs to develop a student’s capacity for innovation.
  • We need to empower students with a mindset for growth and service to improve the world in which we live. They need to believe that what they are learning can help them influence and contribute meaningfully to society.

Qualities #10 and #12 resonated more with who I am as an educator and my attempt to align my actions with my beliefs:

#10 – You value relationships more than tasks.

#12 – You’re a learner.

I like to learn. I like to ask questions and understand more. I try to direct this desire for learning into meaningful conversations and relationship development with others who are committed to improving teaching and learning in the classroom. Together we can achieve more as an investment in our students’ future than if we are working alone.

I think it is helpful to review lists such as these and then self-assess one’s growth accordingly. It helps reinforce what we believe and provide reference points as we project a future of positive impact and choosing to make a difference.

We’re all influential in ways we don’t fully appreciate, but the person who is intentionally influential is going to use their influence for good, to influence a person to help them grow, get what they want, become what they were meant to be. That’s a leader. -Michael Hyatt

Even more on leadership for learning

I have been thinking about leadership skills, and especially those that are needed to advance student learning in a school setting. My first post emphasized the “real power” of relationships, collaboration, equality, conversation and coaching:

  • Acknowledging and developing all the relationships involved in the learning process.
  • Collaborating to achieve results in learning.
  • A spirit of equality that fosters trust and opportunity for growth in everyone’s learning.
  • Meaningful conversations that honor a teacher’s voice and ability to impact change for learners.
  • Coaching as a meaningful investment in growing people for further thought, creativity and innovation.

My second post attempted to frame these essential skills as an action-response to the important question “Why are we here?” Leadership for learning helps remind teachers and staff members why they committed to engaging students in the first place; that we possess a sense of vocation that really matters as we make a positive difference in the lives of kids.

I have been thinking that this type of action-response comes out of a professionally-oriented growth mindset that acknowledges the potential and possibilities of working together to further student learning. Such a mindset focuses on fostering relationships and commits to a “with proper support, collaboration, and partnership, where you are 8-12 years from now will be further than I will ever be at any time in my career” mentality when working with others (see here for more about this idea). This mindset values open communication and providing timely feedback, too, as we all work together. It would seem to me that such a mindset would continually create a culture of progress and achievements in learning.


L. Fliegelman – 2 Top things teachers want from their principal

S. LeDeaux – Leaders: Strive to be the weak link

Teach content or teach thought?

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to curriculum development and 21st century fluencies. How can I help students develop those essential literacy skills, or fluencies, that will help them succeed in today’s society? What balance do I need to establish between “crystallized intelligence” and “fluid intelligence”:

If our job is to teach skills, facts, and concepts–crystallized intelligence–then thinking is simply a tool, and our curriculum is content.

If our job is to teach critical thinking, design, and problem-solving–fluid intelligence–then thinking is our collective circumstance, and our curriculum becomes thought. – Terry Heick

An emphasis on the former has been the standard for generations of students and classrooms. This has been the default in our planning for teaching, too. I often tell colleagues that “We teach as we have been taught”; thus the persistence of this emphasis in schools. We need to be deliberate in our efforts to change.

What if we were more intentional to make critical thinking and 21st century fluencies the focus in our classrooms? How might this change the classroom? How might this impact the way that the curriculum is experienced by students? How will it change me as my students’ teacher and as the learning leader for the school?

I like how Heick explores this implication on teaching, teachers and the classroom environment:

To learn to think, students need powerful and inspiring models that reflect the design, citizenship, creativity, interdependence, affection, and self-awareness we claim to want them to have.

To teach careful, creative, and truly innovative thinking, students need creative spaces and tools, and frameworks to develop their own criteria for quality and success.

They need dynamic literacy skills [read: ‘fluencies’] that they practice and build upon endlessly.

Not projects that have creativity and design thinking added on, but projects that can’t function without them.

And they need control of it all.

I am reminded how I argued for a paradigm shift in how we “do school” when I first presented my ideas for a new school to the Board. It isn’t an easy challenge. It can be messy, too, Nevertheless, I still believe that the positive impact for students and their learning is worth the effort.


T. Heick – Are you teaching content or teaching thought?