A few years ago, when every second student was reading one of the books from the Hunger Games series, I was asked by a student whether I had read them. I explained that I hadn’t. Shocked, the student questioned how I, an English teacher, couldn’t have read them. I asked the student whether he had read Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Confused, he said no. I asked him, why, even though it was considered a classic text of the Western Canon, he had not read it? Surprise to say, the irony was lost on him and the conversation did not go much further. With a feeling of shame, I subsequently went off and read the whole series.
In many ways, I think that the debate over coding in the curriculum follows the same lines. Many call for its inclusion with little explanation why. Another thing to add to an essentialist curriculum. Often the debate is about what is being done and whether staff are adequately prepared, rather than clarifying why coding is even being taught and how we should actually go about it. The first conversation that we need to have though before all this is surely what constitutes coding.
For some coding signifies a bunch of characters used to make the web, others it is about making things happen, for some it is all about the app culture associated with going mobile, while for others it is deeply connected with the formulas, flows and algorithms associated with computational thinking. The reality is that coding means different things for different people in different contexts.
In a recent episode of the #2regularteachers podcast, John Pearce suggests taking our understanding of coding beyond the tool or application, instead considering it as a ‘way of thinking’. For example, rather than seeing a Raspberry Pi as a mini computer which allows you to play Minecraft, we need to consider the affordances that it allows, such as programming a camera to capture an experiment at regular intervals or detecting wifi signal to map free internet points around Australia.
For years when I taught robotics with Lego Mindstorm, I would spend weeks getting students to learn the intricacies of NXT before exploring the possibilities of making. This year I decided to skip the weeks of instruction and instead focus on just making. It was not long before students realised their limitations and dug into the possibilities associated with programming in order to improve their designs. With a purpose, they worked their own way through the various tutorials provided.
The challenge to me is to go beyond the question of instruction and understanding of different languages. Beyond debates about fitting it within an already crowded curriculum. Instead the focus should be on creating the conditions in which students are able to take action and create new possibilities. Maybe this involves Minecraft, Ozobot or Spheros, maybe it doesn’t. Most importantly it involves going beyond worrying about training or competency, as Ian Chunn would have it, and instead embracing the world of making by leading the learning.
So what about you, what does coding mean to you? What have been your experiences? Positive and negative. What do you see as the biggest challenge moving forward? As always comments are welcome.
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