Want to hide in plan sight, look like a mysterious person who knows a ‘difficult’ language or look like you are just playing? All of this can be achieved with one word: CODE; and that’s not ‘code’ for anything!
It is astonishing that something everyone has always done and continues to do every moment of their lives is viewed as completely unattainable for many at first glance. I completely see how rebranding everyday morning routines as code is a difficult leap to take. When we break down the word code to show that is a set of directions to complete a task, the cloud of confusion begins to clear. The Hour of Code site does an incredible job of showing and supporting the learner to see how each step is it’s own line of code. When the lines are combined, then we see the inside story of how something moves forward, spins around, jumps or creates a pattern.
Stepping away from the bits and bytes we can gain a more accessible understanding of cause and effect when we think of Rube Goldberg machines. While not the most effective way of pouring a glass of milk or shooting a pool ball, it does show how a ramp that leads to a drop and pulley system creates the conditions to fulfill an objective.
Unplugged activities create an instant connection physically as well as from an academic standpoint. Creating directions to move forward, backward, and side to side as your partner becomes a robot following commands given brings the concept of coding, and for that matter, debugging from your brain to your feet in a meaningful way.
The automatic bonus is that the level of perseverance, collaboration, forgiveness for mistakes, interest in digging in to solve problems is naturally built into the process. Students who in other situations are quick to give up, are short with others and fear failure have different demeanors when engaged in this work. This is not to say that coding is the magic answer or that a robot for every child will save the day. This is a focus on being responsive to presenting opportunities for learners to connect with in an effective AND affective way.
Seeing ourselves as learners is a crucial step in this process. Our little learners see every opportunity as something explore. It is when we get older and buy into the notion that things come easily and everyone is supposed to be able to understand a concept on the first try; in the classroom that is. At the hockey rink, music studio or kitchen island, second, third and even fiftieth run throughs happen. The key is that when the learner is authentically engaged and ready to step into the work, the real education takes place.
“Well we can’t do that everyday, we have curriculum to cover and students have to be told what to know to be ready for the real world.” Loaded sentence, I know. What if we responded with, “Why not?” Better yet, why don’t we ask how the real world is prepared for the learners? The assembly line model of teaching and thinking about what learning is supposed to be really did a number on educators and parents that lingers to this day. When we repeat what we were taught without evaluation, it results in student disengagement because this type of algorithm leaves no room for the student.
When we do begin to ask questions or take part in a workshop, we are ready to take the next steps in authentic learning. The best kept robot collection is only going to gather dust without a purpose to use them. All the interest in the world can only go so far without guidance and support. THIS is where the coaching model connects all the pieces; a Mary Poppins of properties, if you will, to float in one windy day to help the process along.
This is what is happening right now between two classes that are beginning on their tech buddies journey. Both teachers have an interest and drive to bring this element of education to the group; one with a beginning understanding and a willingness to take part in the journey seeing that the long game begins today. The other with a wider experience integrating coding, technology and curriculum into meaningful ‘byte’ sized pieces that blend together in a casserole of collaborative ideas.
Using the floor tiles to practice moving in different directions and sliding a finger on the lines to mimic the drag and drop motions is where it started. Physically adding arrows to a grid to help your character navigate around objects towards home base. Students jumped in because they had a structure to work with that created room for individual choice and creativity. They shared with ease, accepted and built on feedback they received and in some cases, literally walked through their design plan by using the floor tiles as their guide.
Building on the experience, the classes were introduced to Gracie, written by Daphne McMenemy, illustrated by Alexandria Masse. The story of a young student who had questions, wondered and was intrigued to try new things, extended our journey into coding. The unplugged and plugged resources gave an opportunity to practice the elements being learned while connecting with the story characters of Gracie, Riley, Patrick, Mrs. Wilde and GO Bot.
Integrating story with the concepts helps the learners make connections while being able to UNCOVER curriculum outcomes. Ordinal directions translate to first, next and then when story writing. The student’s plan creates itself when they have already made the items on their coding grid that they travel around. Peers who read the story during partner share have an authentic opportunity to connect with the writing and see those places that can be changed or added to by asking questions. Speaking and listening goals are easy to see in every corner of this process. The best of these was noted when a student commented on how they thought the illustrator was very talented to be able to draw like an adult who is trying to show how a child might draw the character. The nuances were not lost on this group for sure!
The online resources including the board game and the coding cards gave students the small group interactive experience while the Scratch program provided a platform for the upper grade student partners to take on a leadership role as they helped their younger peers navigate the program. Being patient, supportive and providing suggestions were natural extensions from the older students, even without discussion of what they might run into beforehand. It was just win-win at every turn!
Next time we will be able to bring more devices as options and allow room for further free exploration and creation with options to use letters to build sight words, names, math terms and whatever other words students envision. Small props in the class can be employed to be incorporated into the coding design.
What differs from this case to a one time or seldom used device is that it is attached to a story that is relatable and activities that incorporate the language elements of both coding and the reading-writing process. The curriculum connections and next steps wrote themselves as the teacher team’s natural discussion continued after observing the group interactions. At times PLC (Professional Learning Community) can feel like forced confinement when a top-down approach is levied. However when the light in students’ eyes is observed, the professional connections abound.
Again authenticity has a way of being the spark that lights the way forward. When one of the pieces is missing, the process can’t go forward. Now a true PLN (Professional Learning Network) has been created between provinces, in this case between some parties that know each other and some that connect in a different way, yet all are on the same page in many ways. At times hashtag phrases are used inauthentically, in this case #BetterTogether stands as a beacon for new beginnings, connection and collaboration the likes of working alone could never achieve.
Upon ultimate reflection, when something in the class, ‘BEEPS,’ the learning, “CLICKS.’ Be the one who explores the beeps and clicks, embraces the connections and responds to learner interest.