The kids had all gone home, Google Hangouts had been turned off and laptops set in charging carts. My fellow coordinators stood beaming and then we did something we hadn't done in weeks.
We stopped and took a breath.
It had worked. Through the collaboration of 15 schools we had pulled off what only weeks ago had felt like the most ridiculous idea we had ever had. 200 kids from 15 schools around the world had come together for the first ever Global Codeathon.
We took a breath and thought back for a moment at how we had gotten to this point.
For myself the story of the codeathon goes back to when I was first introduced to teaching coding in schools. As chronicled in my earlier post I was inspired to learn coding with a small group of students after watching the video "What most schools don't teach." The result of my first experiment with teaching coding was enough to convince me of it's benefits. I found that by teaching coding, my students were improving many skills such as art, design process and math. In my previous post I reflected;
"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 he had learned it while working in Scratch."
What probably excited me the most about teaching coding wasn't the increase in student math scores it was the endless possibilities it opened for students. I found that student's creativity and problem solving increased.
"The reason I have come to love teaching coding is not because I enjoy coding, it is because I love the possibilities it gives my students. It takes the box of a pre-made app or program away and lets students be the creators."
The more time I spent teaching students coding the more excited I got about it. This was not just something to teach kids because we hope they'll grow up to become rich programmers, it is something to teach kids because we want to open up possibilities to them.
But still the question lingered; How do we get this into schools? One approach is to integrate coding into the curriculum. Another approach is to teach coding outside of the classroom. I have found that both approaches are valuable and necessary in their own way.
Integrated: As I integrated coding into lessons, students learned to code through content such as math and science. This not only increased their coding skills but was also a powerful way to teach specific math and science concepts. Students then went on to demonstrate their understanding of other concepts through coding as was demonstrated in the PYP Exhibition.
Outside the Classroom: Three teachers and myself founded the Coding Club as an after school activity where students met once a week to learn and improve their coding skills. It had become a popular after school activity. Like many schools around the world we participated in the Hour of Code. Our Coding Club students ran the Hour of Code for elementary students and teachers who wanted to be introduced to coding. The event was very successful. Students and teachers went away from the hour excited about what they had learned and eager to learn more. It was a great start but I knew we could do more. All around the world schools had participated in the Hour of Code. How could we learn from each other? How could we build on this momentum?
Going beyond the Hour of Code:
It started as a conversation. Justin Hardman from 21st Century Learning and I met at the Vietnam Tech Conference and started discussing our mutual interest of integrating coding into schools. He talked about how great it is that athletes get to meet each other at tournaments and he wondered if we could give coders a similar experience. His idea was for kids to meet up with kids from other schools and code together in a hackathon style event.
I loved the idea but because I work with Elementary kids I knew traveling internationally to something like this wasn't an option. So I began to dream about the idea of having a codeathon virtually. There were thousands of schools around the world who had participated in the Hour of Code or were teaching their kids to code. Some schools had after school coding clubs like ours, others had done a one time event and would be looking for a next step. It made sense to get those kids together to learn from each other and inspire each other. A codeathon would be the type of exciting event that could inspire kids to code on their own. If this went well then students would have something to look forward to every year. This could also help get coding into classrooms. With a group of students capable of coding at various schools my hope was that teachers would then feel more confident to give coding a try.They would see the benefit of coding first hand and would have a group of coding helpers ready to assist other learners. I was excited by the possibilities so I brought my thoughts to Michelle Matias (UNIS's Elementary Tech Coordinator) and the idea of a virtual Global Codeathon was born.
The Codeathon Part 2-"Taking an Idea Global" to be posted soon
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.