Code to Learn – The next step in teaching computing

After several years of debating whether or not learning programming is useful or necessary, the world is finally moving towards the realization that problem solving and critical thinking are skills best learnt by designing code based solutions. While this is a refreshing outlook in the world of education, there are some prominent gaps that still need filling.

Tech integration, in some ways, is already done. With STEM a big part of today’s education, the concept of integrating the core disciplines is on its way.  So the next step now would be for you, as a teacher, to be able enough to make informed, purposeful choices for the right tech tools in your curricular area. You know what you want to cover, how you want to do it, what the learning outcomes are and what tech options students in your class have to get there. This level of expertise for any teacher in using technology is quickly becoming the de facto standard. In some ways this is becoming a core requirement for schools to even hire new teachers.

Coding needs to follow a similar route.

A few days ago a professor of Engineering from Washington tweeted the following:

Her words echoed one of my core beliefs when it comes to teaching and learning computing. Even from the days when the coding revolution had not yet taken hold of the world of education, my efforts were always to get kids in my computing classes to find ways to integrate what they were learning into other subject areas. Such implementations, however, were almost always the result of initiatives that came from the CS class. But I have always asked, does it have to be that way? What would a curriculum look like if elements of coding were implemented in every subject area? Could the CS class in such a school then become the nerve center that arms students with the base principles? And using that class as a training ground, subject areas like Language Arts, Drama, Music, Humanities, Psychology etc could teach their content via even just one unit that is taught by including coding? What would such an experience do to the cognitive skills of a student? How much innovation can we see coming out of classrooms this way? Would that even be a sustainable approach at all? If so, what would some examples look like?

In this 2012 article published in Getting Smart, Daniel Kimball (from Dell) writes about the value of embedding computing in other subjects. Math and Sciences are an easier fit just by the inherent nature of coding. But what about the others?

This 2017 paper on TESL-EJ beautifully highlights the advantages of coding and English language literacy. This article by a professor of Humanities talks in depth of how he is now convinced computing should be part of the curriculum. This piece connects the dots between Psychology and Computer Science. This 2nd grade teacher found a way to teach music using coding. A page that lists different coding activities possible in Art, Music and PE. If you start looking, I mean seriously looking, there are tons of resources out there which will help you as a teacher of any grade level and any subject area to teach your subject by adding elements of coding.

The risk we run of letting just programming or CS classes do the heavy lifting of teaching coding is that, like any skill, its under utilization over time. Students may do some very innovative stuff in their computing classes which you, as an outsider, may never see. Teaching your content by letting kids design code based solutions allows you to get the best of both worlds. Then, in time, computing classes become innovation centers in their own right where the sole purpose is to arm students with advanced skill sets they can use in all subject areas.

This is still an emerging culture, I agree, with STEM firmly focused on the Math and Sciences. So, if your school is already doing something on this front, by taking the computational thinking idea beyond STEM, please leave your comments on it! Would love to hear more about what such models look like.

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