While I’m writing my dissertation, I am teaching at an independent learning school in a small town in Southern California. The school has traditionally been packet-based, with very little use of digital anything.
Dr. Stephen Pietrolungo, the principal here, is working diligently to move the school into the 21st century. This week, he outlined several fairly simple ways to integrate digital tools, inquiry-based learning, and critical consumption of information in his blog as a kick-off to our launch of the international Hour of Code.
While the week began a bit slow, the students are in my classroom coding as I write this, and their excitement and enthusiasm is inspiring. The students are experimenting, asking questions, sharing trials and successes, and expressing their understanding of how to manipulate code. In addition to being a fun activity, these students are becoming comfortable with what is often seen as a daunting and impossible task.
Coding is often thought of as something that only certain people have the aptitude and patience to learn. Whenever I hear someone say we should teach kids to code, I always ask why, and often, the response is “because.” Learning to code teaches so much more than programming; it teaches learners to think about detailed processes, encourages using logical thinking strategies, problem solving, inquiry, discovery, creativity, the list goes on. But if we teach coding for coding sake without an inherent understanding of why we are teaching it, we are diminishing the import and impact of the lesson.
Furthermore, adults need to quash their own fears of technology, as their seemingly innocent and off-handed comments like “oh I can’t do that” or “well I don’t know how” send a message to budding learners that if they are uncomfortable with a subject, they can just brush it off and not engage with it. Instead, adults (particularly in school settings) need to constantly update their own understanding of the technologies their students use and encourage meaningful, productive use of the tools rather than dismissing them.
It is important that we do not integrate digital tools for the sake of using digital tools. Rather, we must teach learners why they are learning specific content and using new tools. In this way, we can help them to be innovative users of technology and critical consumers of information.