The tools educators need to introduce coding to their students are widely available, free, and fun.
Coding in schools is a hot topic in education tech right now, but teaching students how to code is one aspect of a computer science course. Not all schools are able to offer computer science classes, and not all educators feel confident in being able to teach this important skill.
Even if educators have no experience with coding, they can integrate this digital language into their curriculums. Many public schools have subscriptions to the professional development services offered through Atomic Learning. If your school is a subscriber, you have access to its Coding in the Classroom training.
Once teachers are ready to explore the ways that computers can help them teach coding, there are a variety of training tools available. “There are many things you can do that don’t require computer use,” says Pat Yongpradit, VP of education at Code.org.
“You can be sorting different weights. Finding a path between two points.”
Yongpradit adds that in terms of getting started, “it ranges from taking college level courses or computer science methods courses. Code.org offers online or onsite professional development. There are also MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses] available to prepare teachers to teach a new AP computer science course.”
Because coding utilizes the skills learned in math and science courses, integrating coding projects into these classes feels more natural. Coding, however, has its place in classrooms across the disciplines and grade levels.
Establishing these building blocks in elementary school provides learners with the skills they will need to advance in programming as they grow.
Computer science concepts and courses should be introduced early and built upon often in order to avoid having students adopt stereotypes. “Kids should not be moving out of 8th grade without exposure to computer science courses,” Yongpradit says. The older they get, the more likely they are to see the field of computer science as limited to those who want to be programmers.
Yongradit noted, “Introducing students to computer science should be about building their self-efficacy and interest. Teachers do this by leveling the playing field. We don’t start with coding. Start with other topics in computer science. Computer science is about empowering kids to create things with a computer.”
For teachers who want to introduce coding into the classroom, Carlos Contreras, Intel’s original public affairs director says, “It’s about putting the students in the middle of the learning. Once they have an idea of what they want to do, the learning comes in. You have to allow the kid to fail. How do you allow that in the classroom where you are constrained with time?”
Recognizing that overcoming the intimidation and time hurdles can be obstacles for teachers, Contreras said, “We do a lot of work to extend learning beyond the classroom.” Providing resources where teachers can build their confidence makes integrating content into the classroom a lot easier. Toward that end, Contreras noted, “This summer we are training about 80 teachers on how to program with Intel’s Galileo Board.”
Intel also funded some of the Scratch development which gives kids the opportunity to create with computers. “Scratch is open, free, online community with lots of examples. If you can type on the keyboard, you can do Scratch,” Contreras said.
To help educators engage students more deeply in the STEM disciplines, NICERC, an academic division of the Cyber Innovation Center, creates hands-on curricula, hosts camps and competitions, and offers professional development and teacher resources. “Coding is a showcase for the math and science that kids are learning,” says G.B. Cazes, Cyber Innovation Center VP.
“It answers the ‘why?’ question by giving them an actual use for what they are learning.”
Through the project based learning offered by NICERC, students can learn to apply the basics of math and science in combination with communication skills and create impressive and authentic innovations. Students collaborate interactively with their intellect and their hands in order to build engines and cars using a micro-controller.
All of this sounds amazing for the kids, but can feel intimidating for educators. For teachers who have no idea where to begin, “Start with a project,” Cazes advises. “Don’t try to consume the entire elephant in one bite. There are different levels for different teachers of different capabilities. There is also professional development and training.”
Whether a single teacher is looking to integrate a project into the curriculum or there is a statewide initiative to bring coding into the classroom, Cazes says, “We are here to help. We can help guide or connect—we are sort of a repository for all things cyber.”
Because the goal is “building cyber citizens,” Cazes says, “we are giving projects that will help teachers teach in a new way to engage students. They should use the projects to drive learning, and we use cyber as a way to do that.”
TechSmith is another resource teachers can use for help with the challenges of bringing technology into the K-12 classroom. Instructional technology specialist at Valparaiso Community Schools, Olga Granat, a TechSmith customer who participated in The Hour of Code, says, “Coding K-12 is about creative thinking, collaboration, team work, challenge, and communication. For teachers, they don’t need to be a coder to have fun. It’s about learning with the kids.”
Teachers should get acquainted with as many coding resources as possible, Granat adds. “There are all kinds of resources. With many of them, you can create a free account. The tools have tutorials and you can either learn it yourself or depending on your style of teaching you can learn it together with the kids.”
And the connections to different disciplines evolve as students advance in their understanding of programming. “Python is more text based so that the kids that have used Scratch and have the foundation can now talk about the important of the period at end of sentence,” Granat says.