"We need to learn to code." My husband announced this to me matter of factly one evening last spring. He is a passionate and tech savvy teacher. It is not unusual for him tell me about new technology that I should learn about and use in my classroom. However, this statement made me laugh out loud at it's absurdity. Learning to code was not something I was slightly interested in. In fact I didn't even really know what coding was nor did I care that I didn't know. Then I watched the video above. A video which many of you have probably already seen. You may have felt the same way I did when I saw it. I thought "Oh crap, I actually do need to learn to code." So my adventure into coding began.
The next day at school my students were beginning the Grade 5 PYP Exhibition. One particular group of five boys wanted to inquire into technology but they weren't sure what direction to go. So I showed them the video and said, "Do you want to look into this?" Sure enough they did. None of them knew anything about coding. But they all agreed that they wanted to learn it and then take action by teaching it to others. So we all decided to learn together.
Luckily for me learning to code right now is easier than it has ever been. Not long ago if you wanted to learn to code you would start learning a language such as HTML. You would type in line after line of code and most likely become lost and confused by some minor spacing error in your code. But today there are numerous beginner friendly, visually pleasing programs out there to help you get started. Programs like Tynker, Light Bot and Codeacademy. After looking around I decided to try out Scratch. I liked it because it was visually appealing, good for upper elementary students and free. I did what most of us do when learning something new, I looked up videos on Youtube. About one hour later I had written code for my first ever Scratch project. It was a game of Pong. I was excited. I knew if I could do that my kids could do even better.
The next day I showed my group of five students what I did and said, "If I can do that in one hour, what can you do?" So off we went. My students took right to it. Every night they went home and wrote code. They came back every day with new knowledge and new questions. To keep up with them I enrolled in an online class about Scratch from American School of Bombay. I began creating my own projects. The more I learned about Scratch the more I began to understand how computers work. My students felt the same way.
I remember one student saying to me, "Ms. Mindy, now when I look at a game I don't just think about the graphics, I always think about the code that went in to writing the game." Another student showed me how to click on anything in Google and see it's code. He said, "Now that I have been learning to code I see everything on the internet differently. It is like I think about what is behind everything now."
The students were flying. It wasn't just coding. I could see their creativity and problem solving ability increasing as well as their overall motivation and confidence. I remember one day when I was teaching coordinates, one of my coders raised his hand and explained to the class what the X and Y axis were. I asked how he knew that and he told me had learned it while working in Scratch.
So I started to think about ways that I could incorporate Scratch into my lessons so that the rest of my class could learn as well. Once I knew a bit about Scratch this was easier than I thought. This blog will be where I post some of the classroom applications that I have stumbled across. I hope that others will share their knowledge as well.
As a side note: One year later and the coders that I started with have all continued with coding and many have moved on to more difficult languages such as JAVA. One student even went to coding camp over the summer.
Mindy Slaughter is a classroom teacher at UNIS Hanoi. She started learning to code when some of her students wanted to study it for the PYP Exhibition. She has since help start the Elementary Coding Club and is a founding member of the Global Codeathon. She believes coding opens the doors for student creativity and is working to integrate it into the curriculum.