"For truly creative people there is no box"-Yong Zhao
A few weeks back I attended and presented at the EARCOS Teachers Conference in Bangkok. For me EARCOS was a bit like completing a puzzle. There were lots of independent pieces of information that I took in from conversations and presentations with Hamish Clark, Wendy Smith, Brian Smith and Yong Zhao. With each interaction I began to get a clearer picture of what this all meant to me. My big takeaways were
* Kids need opportunities to design
* Coding is a creative outlet
I once heard a children's author explain, "I have the best job in the world. I get to write and create whatever I imagine. That is much more exciting than just reading what someone else wrote." What I have come to realize is that sentiment is true anytime we create. Letting students create gives them ownership of their thinking.
Yong Zhao explained, "If you create a product you have a purpose. Learning should serve a genuine purpose. Students take more responsibility. Students get into the habit of trying to become great. You want children to
learn that they can become great through effort." I have seen this in my students when they create something in Scratch or when they create websites with HTML and CSS. I don't have to design lessons for them. They figure out what they need to learn in order to accomplish their task. I end up becoming more of a learning coach and less of the holder of knowledge.
Hamish Clark who attended my workshop spoke to me and explained that the crux of what I am doing with my kids is not teaching them to code, it is giving them a vehicle to be creative. I had never thought
about that before but he was exactly right. 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.
I got to experience what it is like to be a creator when I attended Brian and Wendy Smith's "Young Makers" workshop. They had tables set up throughout the room and on each table was a challenge. I got to make a robot toothbrush. During that experience I learned that creating while highly engaging is also challenging and it is in that challenging moment that true learning happens. While I was challenged I had to rethink my design, I had to problem solve on how I could get the pieces to stick. When I figured out the answer and successfully made my Brush Bot I experienced the satisfaction that students feel from accomplishing a task.
From this I was inspired to take some key next steps in my classroom:
1. Give students regular opportunities to be creative by setting up making times where they get to explore both with coding and physical materials.
2. Make summative assessment tasks open enough that students can chose to code something to demonstrate their understanding.
Previously I had introduced my class to Makey Makey's, through an Electricity unit. It was a great way to get kids coding and to explore Makey Makey's, but what was missing was an opportunity for students to design. An hour of maker time was the perfect next step for my students. For my first attempt at giving kids creative time I set out 4 Makey Makey's, some electrical equipment, clay, string, and magnets. Then I gave students the next hour to see what they could create. It was awesome. Most of the kids chose to work with others. Some students wrote animations on Scratch, others created games that they controlled with magnets or clay via the Makey Makey. Every single student was engaged for the entire hour, every student reflected that they felt successful because they figured out an answer and overcame a problem. It was great to see students all over the room throwing up their hands in excitement as they figured out how to do something.
A week later we had Heidi Kay's fourth grade class come walk around and see what we created. This gave my kids an audience to share their creation with and it gave the 4th graders some inspiration for what they could do. Having coworkers such as Heidi who are eager to try out new uses of technology is great because we can try out new ideas together and give each other feedback.
It feels like a small step but it is a step. It is not a maker space or a DIY night. But it is a step to my classroom and the school becoming the type of place Yong Zhao described. A place where students design, create and own their learning. A step to teaching beyond the box.
Students discussing their design ideas.
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.