I believe that any conversation about teaching coding is incomplete without a look at how it can be used to enhance the curriculum. Coding applications such as Scratch and Gamemaker are open ended and give a teacher more flexibility to differentiate then a worksheet or pre-made app. It also gives students the ability to create. This ability makes student's learning meaningful and gives them more ownership of their learning. In such a situation learning to code is secondary to the lesson objective. Don't get me wrong, teaching coding explicitly is important but as a 5th grade teacher what really gets me excited is seeing how coding has enhanced my curriculum.
One example of this type of lesson is when I taught fractions using music.
"Describe, continue and create patterns with fractions, decimals and whole numbers resulting from addition and subtraction" - Australian National Curriculum Year 5
I was having a coffee and discussion with a Alexis Ramsey, a music teacher at my school when I was struck by something she said. She explained that music is great for teaching fractions. At the time I was teaching fractions and loved the idea of pulling in music to teach the above curriculum standard. My immediate thought was that if I could get my students to hear fractions, it might make better sense to them. In looking for resources to teach this lesson I came across the iPad app (pictured left) which had promise but was limiting.
It wasn't open ended. I wanted opportunities for differentiation and creativity. As cool as the app was, it was still someone else's creation and therefore limited to the imagination of that person. I wanted the end result of the lesson to be limited by nothing more than my students. Therefore I came up with the idea of using Scratch to teach the lesson instead. With Scratch students would be able to create their own app. They would be able to write and listen to their own music.
In the end my students were all able to meet the lesson objective of continuing a pattern using addition and subtraction of decimals and fractions. They were all able to identify the pattern they created and describe how they applied their understanding to coding. I could have taught my students this same concept in many different ways but I can't imagine them being any more engaged or excited about their learning as they were with this lesson. Anyone who thinks coding sounds boring has never seen a group of 5th graders coding their own music.
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.