One thing that has always been important to me is student choice. My experience has been that choice empowers students and that empowerment gives them the intrinsic motivation that us teachers love. I found early on in my teaching that when I gave students choice they actually worked harder, learned more and owned their learning to a higher degree.
Today in education student empowerment has continued to play an important role. Project based learning, product oriented learning, design thinking and the maker movement all emphasize student choice within the learning and creation process.
The PYP places heavy emphasis on students having ownership of their learning. The IBO website states, "Students who learn in this way begin to reflect on their roles and responsibilities as learners and become actively involved with their education." The key in that statement is "actively." The PYP wants students to be active in their education, part of being active in your education is actively choosing how you demonstrate your understanding.
The PYP Exhibition is the "culminating experience" of the PYP. It is no surprise then that with the PYP Exhibition, schools give students considerable choice both in what students inquire into and how they display their understanding. After our students have inquired extensively into a topic we let each group choose how they will present their understanding. This year we had some students write music, create art installations, create websites, make movies, design interactive simulations and many more. It is always inspiring to see the wide variety of ways that students choose to demonstrate their understanding. The depth of understanding that these 5th graders have often amazes me.
I was both surprised and excited when I realized that several groups chose to use coding to design a program which would demonstrate their understanding. One group was inquiring into benefits and negatives of cell phone use. In order to demonstrate the positive use of cell phones two members of the group created their own apps using MIT App Inventor. What I loved about that is that I hadn't taught these students MIT App Inventor. I had taught them Scratch and introduced them to app inventor but they taught themselves how to use App Inventor with no help from me.
Another group of students was looking into healthy lunch choices and two of the students in the group decided to make a game where the player needed to try and eat the banana's and avoid the unhealthy foods. For every banana that they ate their energy level in the game went up. For every junk food their calories went up. It was an engaging way for the students to demonstrate their understanding.
A third group of students used Scratch to create a program which would first teach participants about the effects of climate change, then quiz them on their understanding and then give them an opportunity to play an interactive game.
All of these students realized something many adults don't, programming has limitless potential. It is much more then syntax to be memorized. It takes away the box and lets students create in new ways.
What is really cool is that many of these students weren't even in our weekly coding club. The student who created the banana game and the student who created the app weren't even in my homeroom class. I had come in and taught one math lesson and one science lesson in their classroom using Scratch. That was all the introduction they needed. The rest they learned on their own. What that means to me is that maybe this won't be as hard as we think. Even if all we do is introduce kids to coding we at least start to give kids the opportunity to learn it on their own. We open up that learning possibility for them. We start to empower them. It is exciting to see where they go from their.
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.