Coding for Teachers: The Kickstart Guide for 2020

“I’m just not a computer person.”

Sound familiar?

How about “I’m not good with computers.”

Using a computer for anything more than checking an email or writing a document irks you. Let alone coding for teachers.

Despite this discomfort, you’re here because you’re also curious. You know that digital technology is here to stay and that it’s part of a young person’s future.

I know the futures of your students matter to you and that’s why you’re taking some action to learn something new. Besides, you’re pushing through the barrier of discomfort to bring coding to your classroom.

If you want to know where to begin, what the curriculum is saying and how to learn to code fast, then read on.

What is the use of coding?

cartoon figure wondering why bother with coding for teachers
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You probably have some understanding of what coding is. In short, coding is a sequence of steps that tells the computer what to do. Sure, it underpins all the apps and software that we use to consume technology. But what if you or your leaners don’t what to pursue that path?

Does it still have a use or function in the classroom?

The answer to that isn’t a binary yes or no. In effect, your opinions weigh against your school’s and your curriculum’s along with the learner’s.

Let’s explore why every child should learn to code.

The 4 Benefits of Why Every Child Should Learn to Code

hand holding three benefits of problem-solving, job prospects and future environment.
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When you look at research, or the curriculum, the main benefits of learning to code become clearer. The benefits distil into the following:

  • Problem-solving and computational thinking
  • Collaboration and contribution
  • High demand of job prospects
  • It’s fun

The first of these points is computational thinking. In short, computational thinking is a problem-solving approach used by programmers.

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You take a big idea, such as hosting a dinner party, and break it up into smaller chunks. At our dinner party, we decide on the number of courses. Once decided, we select a meal for each course, and then we can break down each meal into its recipe.

Of course, we can add more complexity to our dinner party but the point remains the same. Take a big idea whose solution isn’t defined and break it up into smaller more manageable pieces.

The second benefit is collaboration and the contribution young people make. When young people code, they are participating in their future playgrounds. These playgrounds involve technology, collaboration and making a meaningful contribution to wider society.

Big projects that add social value need collaboration. A coder isn’t someone who is a lone wolf.

Next, young people who pursue coding will have sought after skills. Learners will future-proof themselves in a market that wants them.

Finally, coding is fun. You get to stimulate many senses simultaneously when interacting with and creating software. The experience of making an app is rewarding when you see the enjoyment of others. That’s since the app adds value to their life.

For more detail on each of these points, check out the blog post “4 Benefits of Why Every Child Should Learn to Code.”

What Does the Curriculum Have to Say About Coding for Teachers?

Badge saying curriculum in front of a school with a speech bubble saying coding
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A wonderful resource exists to make better sense of the curriculum. It’s the Australian Computing Academy’s “Unpacking the Curriculum”. Bookmark it and check it out some other time, as I’m about to give you the rundown.

We can group the coding component of the curriculum into 3 categories:

  • The intention of the curriculum
  • Key thinking skills
  • Design thinking

Let’s explore the first: The intention of the curriculum.

Intention of the Curriculum

A major intention or theme of the curriculum is creation. Students create, rather than solely consume, digital content. However, creation isn’t to be viewed in isolation. It’s coupled with the benefit offered to communities and their pain points.

Building a game that makes a fart sound might be fun and neat entry point, yet, it’s not the finishing point. That comes when learners work on projects that motivate them. While working on these projects, learners think and design solutions to broader challenges. It forms more of a social enquiry.

In order to offer these solutions, learners need to develop some key thinking skills.

Key Thinking Skills

We’ve already explored one key thinking skill: computational thinking. What are the others? These are systems thinking and design thinking.

First, let’s explore system thinking. Think computers, their apps and the internet. These items form networks of hardware and software that connect to each other.

cartoon figure thinking about hardware software and the internet
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We live in a time where our connectedness rivals no other. When students engage in digital solutions to community problems, they use systems thinking.

Human-Centred Design

Lastly, the solution must put the person as the centre of the design. This is design thinking in action. Humans have universal basic needs and when a need isn’t met, they experience discomfort.

It is the job of the designer to hear what this need is and design a solution to help meet it.

The last component of the curriculum refers to key concepts. Key concepts are beautifully mapped out in the “Unpacking the Curriculum” resource. But I’ll give you a rapid-fire overview of them now.

Screenshot of Australian Computing Academy's resource
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Screenshot from Australian Computing Academy Website
  • Abstraction — reduces a problem down to its bare essentials and hides the details.
  • Data
    • Collection — Numerical, categorical or structured data that is used to create information. Think surveys.
    • Representation — The visual form of data that people and computers store or communicate.
    • Interpretation — Transforms collected data to make meaning for either human or computer. For instance, infographics and modelling.
  • Specification
    • Algorithms — Following, describing and defining a sequence of steps to solve problems. Think of our recipe example.
    • Implementation — Using a digital solution to enact the algorithm. This is coding.
  • Digital Systems — We touched on earlier. These systems include hardware, software and networks.
  • Interactions and impacts — The human-centredness of solutions that we touched on earlier.
Cartoon figure in centre with arrows pointing to it.
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Now that we’ve had a brief overview of the curriculum, let’s explore why teachers should learn to code.

3 Reasons Why Teachers Should Learn to Code

sterotypical programmer
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Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

The Stereotype

What’s your stereotypical image of a coder? Come on be honest. You were thinking of that slightly larger gentleman who works alone, right?

Coding is available to everyone, including you.

When you don’t see someone similar working in coding, then you don’t believe you belong in the field, do you? You can’t imagine yourself in your hero’s shoes. That’s why it’s important to offer coding experiences at a young age. Doing so increases the likelihood of further studies into higher education.

Additionally, coding early on opens up more opportunities for more women and minorities. You’ll be actively changing the narrative of the stereotype.

Curriculum Integration

Now, you probably have a learning area that’s your bread and butter. You love teaching it. For me, that’s maths.

Due to my background in programming, I immediately sensed the opportunities in maths. I’ve made interactive clocks, and games that need timers to name just a few. It’s super fun to use coding as an artefact of understanding.

Integrating your favourite learning areas becomes possible with some basic computer science knowledge. Unleash the creativity.

The two videos above show ways teachers integrate technology into their subjects. Check out what they’re up to.

Modelling the Learning Process

I get it. This one is a little annoying. Learn alongside the students they say.

Yeah, It can feel a little uncomfortable doing that. Yet, it’s also liberating when you don’t know the content and you can model the journey of learning.

I can hear you say “but you didn’t have to do that with coding.” That’s true (although I would for more advanced topics). Still, I have used Duolingo to study a language with learners in my classroom before. I didn’t speak that language, so I had to model how I would go about it.

The power in modelling persistence, modelling curiosity and modelling inquiry cannot be understated. Here’s a great opportunity for you to study something alongside your learners.

BONUS: the planning and assessment is usually done for you, too!

So how do you teach coding in the classroom? The last point is a nice little segue from learning to code to teaching others.

3 Tips for Teaching Coding in Your Classroom

#1 Learning Alongside Your Students.

The first tip is one that we have already explored: learning alongside your students.

#2 Students Are The Experts

The second tip is creating a classroom where students become the experts. Students do this through a student-led knowledge base. Create a bulletin board or a FAQs area where others can pose questions. Those with the know-how will come to the rescue.

A more in-depth solution would be to have your learners create video tutorials for each other. This process not only solidifies the content in the teacher’s mind, but benefits his or her peers with the knowledge they are after.

In Disruptive Classroom Technology, Dr. Anthony Magana speaks of transformational technology use. The learner adds transformational value through publishing an artefact to a wider audience. This published artefact must benefit the wider audience, too.

Publishing tutorials for one another is an example of transformational use of technology.

#3 Design Lines of Inquiry

The last tip refers to allowing students to design their own lines of inquiry. Dr. Magana sees this as the pinnacle of value that’s added by technology. That’s since students design solutions to questions that matter to them.

This approach activates the elusive intrinsic motivation in the learner. As a result, for a project to add real value, it must be linked to some kind of social enterprise that benefits the community and world.

Sure, it’s probably not the first thing you’ll take on, but it’s where the road leads to.

Take the first step. Try an Hour of Code.

screenshot of hour of code website
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Screenshot from Hour of Code

Are you ready to whet your appetite for coding? Before you make any kind of commitment, it’s probably best to dip your toe in the water. A nice launch pad is to check out the Hour of Code resource on the code.org website.

What does Hour of Code Teach You?

Here’s an excerpt from the website:

“The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code”, to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with 1-hour coding activities but expanding to all sorts of community efforts. Check out the tutorials and activities. This grassroots campaign is supported by over 400 partners and 200,000 educators worldwide.”

Code.org

If you’ve already completed an hour of code, maybe you’re wondering where to go next. Well, if you prefer to choose your own adventure, then diving into a bunch of free resources could be the way to go. Exploring code.org’s suite of experiences is a good entry point.

What does code.org teach you?

screenshot of code.org website
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Code.org provides comprehensive resources that give detailed information about coding. The resource contains a bunch of unplugged (offline) resources to get you up and running. Even when the tech isn’t available. The downside? It can be a little overwhelming knowing where to begin.

For a comprehensive list of resources, check out Code.org’s lengthy list of programs.

Get Started with These Free Workshops for Teachers

screenshot of scratchED meetup website
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Screenshot taken from ScratchEd Meetup Page

Other great free resources for educators include MIT’s Scratch website and Codeclub

Scratch is a visual programming language where you create coding projects. You can also share these projects to a wider audience. It also has some educator account perks that you can use, too. Scratch is my preferred way of teaching coding. Check out some of the in-built tutorials on the website.

ScratchEd also offer a bunch of educator run Meetup events that are usually free to attend. This is a great way to get involved with other like-minded teachers.

Coding Professional Development for Teachers

If you want a more guided approach, then coding professional development for teachers is for you.

In January 2020, I launched a course that explains what coding is, why it’s important and how to use it in the classroom. The course walks you through Scratch on the way to completing your first project.

You’ll complete the course and build your first Scratch project. That project has an accompanying resource you can use in class. Zing!

Assessment on your mind? I designed two assessment rubrics that can be used with the project. Either self-assess or peer-assess the projects that your group of learners create.

Your next steps…

The challenge of learning something new can be daunting. Leading a bunch of learners through the process only exacerbates the dread.

But, you CAN do this. When you bring coding to your classroom, your learners are going to love it. When you design your experiences around social enquiry, your impact on the world extends far beyond the classroom.

So here’s what I want you to do now. Pick your entry point. That might be the hour of code or one of the free resources mentioned above.

Or choose the fastest path to bring coding to your classroom.

It’s that simple.

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