During the week of December 9-15, students all over the country will be learning how to code, thanks to an initiative from Code.org. December 9-15 is Computer Science Education Week, so finding an hour during that week is the perfect way to enter and celebrate the world of coding.
Why coding, you ask? There’s a bunch of reasons for why learning how to code is a valuable skill, even if you have absolutely no intention of ever becoming a software engineer. Here I’ll discuss a few points that I personally think make it a good reason. I’m a little biased since I worked for many years as a software engineer but I do think it is a skill that everyone should learn, even if just once.
First of all, we’re in the heart of Silicon Valley – code is all around us and a vibrant part of our everyday lives, whether we code or not. Code is embedded into our phones, our TVs, our cars… almost everything that requires power has code in it. And somebody wrote that code to make it do whatever it is that it does so that we can benefit from it. Code helps us make it easier to solve problems and accomplish tasks.
Second of all, coding teaches persistence and grit. When the solution is within reach, it helps grow persistence to iron out bugs, work through logic, and get the program to run. And the satisfaction is almost immediate when the program works!
Lastly, it’s very “Common Core” to learn how to program. Critical thinking and problem solving are essential skills, and coding is a great way to learn. You work step by step through logic. You make sure it makes sense. You look for ways to break down a big problem into smaller, solvable chunks.
Getting started with coding can be easy if you have the technology available. I started to review what’s currently available that makes coding accessible to both students and teachers. On the iPad there are many games that make it easy for students to learn programming concepts. My latest favorite is Light-Bot. There is a free “Hour of Code” version that is currently available. Students use different commands to move a robot. It is basically a puzzle that teaches programming concepts like procedures, if-then statements, and loops. Similar to Light-Bot is Cargo-Bot, which is also a puzzle-like app, but instead of moving around a robot you move around a robotic arm to move cargo around.
Next there’s Hopscotch, a visual programming language like MIT’s Scratch. Students can create their own animations and games using this app. What’s cool about this is that you can take advantage of the gyro in the iPad, so you can make things happen when you shake or tilt the iPad, or even if there is a loud noise that the iPad detects. It also teaches how to build procedures, make conditional statements, and loops. Whereas Light-Bot is more like a game that teaches programming concepts, Hopscotch gives students the opportunity to be creative and create their own game. This makes it easier to embed coding into your curriculum. For instance, if you’re teaching geometry, you could have students exploring angles when they make their objects rotate by different degrees, or you can teach them how to move objects along the coordinate plane.
My favorite kids programming language of all time is Scratch, made by the folks at MIT. They have lots of ideas in their forum on what to do during the Hour of Code. Kids can create their own games, animations, and stories using this graphical programming language with drag and drop blocks. You can run Scratch through a web browser with Adobe Flash installed. When students are finished they can upload their projects and share with others and get comments back – kind of like you can on YouTube, but with a constructive focus.
Will you be coding with your classroom? Or, do you want to, but need some help? Let us know in the comments!