flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

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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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Although some schools are going one-to-one iPads, there is a growing trend of teachers purchasing their own iPad and bringing them into the classroom. This is a different proposition. Where I have written about how an iPad can support teacher’s professional and personal learning, I have not written about how iPads can be used to support learning within the classroom. I therefore put out a call for thoughts and ideas on Twitter:

Here then are the responses I got (tweets in brackets):

  • Engaging With and Demonstrating Learning (Michelle Meracis, Jonathan Nalder and Corrie Barclay) – Whereas interactive whiteboards demand a focus on the front of the room, having an iPad provides a portable medium to share with. I myself spent six months running an intervention group using the iPad as a means for students to sketch out ideas. Although I just used Paper53 in the past, something like Explain Everything provides more functionality in regards to text and shapes. In addition to this, Richard Wells describes how you can even using Explain Everything as a recordable whiteboard. Depending on the set up of the school, the content on the iPad can then be projected on a larger screen using a range of means, including Apple TV, Reflector or Air Server. Engaging with learning from a different perspective, Plickers allows you to easily gauge student feedback with only one device, while Post-It Notes and iBrainstorm provide different means to build ideas.
  • Teacher’s PDA (John Thomas and Corrie Barclay) – Beautiful handwriting? Capture it! Great clay modelling? Capture it! Clever oral presentation? Capture it! The portability of an iPad allows for the ongoing documentation of learning that is and isn’t digital. This can range from still images, audio and video. What is great is that you can now auto-backup to Google Drive, taking away the pain of having to connect with the computer to transfer files. In addition to this, Bec Spink has shared how she uses Evernote to support this endeavour. While Brett Sinnett has written about how he uses Google Sheets offline to keep all of his formative assessment. Another possibility is to simply post content on a private blog or an application like Easy Portfolio to store information. What is good about making notes digital is the ability to easily organise information using tags and folders, making it much easier to sort things at a later date.
  • Connecting with the World (Jenny Ashby) – Another suggestion is that the iPad can become the permanent connection with the wider world. Whether it be using Twitter to share learning or engaging an expert, such as an author; publishing work on a school YouTube Channel; using Skype to engage with another class from around the world; or maintaining a class blog to celebrate and reflect upon the learning that is occurring in the classroom. There are so many ways in which students can get outside of the classroom these days, the question is which means fits the context.
  • Capturing and Creating – Going beyond just documenting work, the iPad provides a means for creating different products as a part of the learning process. Lately, my students have really taken to Adobe Voice, creating everything from radio advertisements to sharing thoughts and reflections. However, applications like Book Creator and Explain Everything provide the same possibilities. For example, Bec Spink has made books using Book Creator with Preps. Beyond these three applications, Tony Vincent provides a range of applications for making and creating on both mobile and the web which is useful. In regards to creating, there as just so many possibilities, it all comes back to what you are trying to do and why.

For more ideas in regards to iPads, I highly recommend Tony Vincent’s fantastic infographic on the iPad as the ‘Teacher’s Pet’.

iPad as Teachers Pet by Tony Vincent

As well as scrolling through Alex Herbert’s extensive list of resources on Pinterest which was shared with me by Corrie Barclay.


At the end of the day, I have found the biggest challenge with only having one iPad in the class is that you can’t do all three things at once. You might have a group creating a video, while you are wanting to document learning. This is why it is so important to think about how you do things. By using applications like Google Apps, it means that if you do not have the iPad, you can at least fall back to the laptop to do your work.

What about you? Do you teach in a one iPad classroom? What has worked? What have been the challenges? As always, would love to hear your throughts.


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