She works diligently writing the code that is set before her. She tells me that she has finished. I ask her if she has viewed the finished product in her browser. She proceeds to enter browser view to see her finished product. A smile comes to her face and she exclaims, “My Mom needs to see this”. Okay Mom, here you go.
I got to thinking about Computer Labs. I really do not like the term. Once upon a time you went to a computer lab to learn about computers. I prefer Learning Lab. A place where technology is available and learning on any subject can take place.
The journey into teaching coding also got me thinking. The typical lab layout is way to sterile. Rows of tables all lined up where comfort and collaboration are hindered. I would like a lab more like a coffee shop. Relaxed atmosphere, computers not tethered to cables, variety of seating arrangements, adjustable lighting, and multiple large displays on the walls streaming a variety of tech related streaming video. Oh, and a barista bar for the instructor.
I am always in need of fresh reminders. And Cult of Pedagogy gives me a fresh reminder as to why pioneering Coding at a Middle School is such a challenge. It’s not always about the code, sometimes and most of the time, well just about all of the time, it is about the kids.
The journey into and through piloting teaching coding at various levels in a district is a challenge to say the least. Middle School provides that awkward and unique opportunity to make the transitions from early childhood to adolescence. Stephan Mischook the pioneer at Studio Web makes a case for teaching code to kids and we agree.
To get the best outcomes with students, here are my top 3 code teaching tips:
- Write real code, not ‘lego’ code.
- Use real coding tools, not code simulators.
- Build real projects from start to finish.
Debugging is the process of fixing things. So let’s keep it simple, real simple. No matter what you are trying to fix whether is is computer code or student behavior, there is a process of three simple things. Memorize and do these three things daily until it becomes second nature. Here it is…
- What should it be doing?
- What is it doing?
- What needs to be done to fix it?
Works great with student behavior. Ask the off task student, what are you doing? Pause and wait for a response. Then ask, what should you be doing? Pause and wait for their response. Then ask them what are they going to do to solve the problem. Wait for their response.
Same way with coding and everything else in life. Three simple questions to process your thinking toward successful solutions.
Setting: Third Period
Me. Hello, how is your day going?
Me: What have you learned today?
Student: I don’t know.
Me: What did you have First Period?
Me: What did you do?
Student: We used Kahoot!!!
Me: Great. What did you learn with Kahoot?
Student: I don’t know.
Reminder to self: It’s not about the tools, it is about the learning.
What does it mean to be a coder today? The answer isn’t so simple. With technology as the backbone of our economy, everything from entrepreneurship to art galleries to medicine is affected by code. That means the ability to read and write code – even at a fundamental level – can not only make you a valuable team member, but can also help you communicate and better integrate your ideas into the final product.
For the past couple of weeks I have tried something new with 6th graders and the LMS I am assessing for our District. Each student is on one computer, they log into the assignment on the LMS, go to the day’s lesson, and then follow the directions for that day. The assignment consists of reading a brief set of directions, watching three brief videos on the topic assigned, writing a six sentence paragraph explaining the topic on a Google Doc and then uploading their work back to the LMS.
As a part of formative assessment I will ask the class to explain to me in “kid words” what the topic means. For example, one of this weeks topics was coding. The simple concept that they should have been able to explain is that “code is a set of instructions that tells a computer what to do”. When asked what code is, no one could explain. Some students did not respond and had absolutely no clue and the Pre-AP students began to read from their paragraph statements from the videos that they had transcribed verbatim. Yet no one seemed to comprehend the topic, understand the topic, synthesize the topic, and explain the topic.
This caused me to re-evaluate and re-think the process of what was going on. Things like…
- What am I doing wrong?
- How can I better present the material?
- Did I choose the correct material?
One aspect of improvement that came to mind was a set of guiding questions that would stimulate thinking and guide the students through the videos. What to be alert for, what to take note of, and what to consider including in their summaries. If I want to have students comprehend, understand, synthesize, and explain, then I will need to provide them with the correct stimuli to do that.
One other thing that I noticed is the videos themselves. Not all videos are created equal. Just having students watch a video on a subject or topic does not necessarily mean that they will retrieve the material that they need. I quickly noticed the need for repetition and reinforcement. If the take a way is that “code is a set of instructions that tell a computer what to do”, then the material used must state, define, refine, and reinforce the concept. Not many videos do that. Simply choosing an online video will not get the job done. Many videos may be great for introducing a student to a topic, yet they do not lend themselves to comprehension, understanding, synthesizing, and explanation.
Some quick take aways as we move students to online learning.
- Information is abundant, but the analytical ability to comprehend, understand, synthesize, and explain needs guidance.
- Outcomes rely heavily on the inputs that are designed.
- Online alone is not an acceptable replacement for a directed pedagogy.
- In a “click and move on” culture, learners of all ages (pre-K through adult) do not take the time to read (even brief sections) of instruction. They are looking for something visual to move them on to the entertainment.