Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Continuing the #Hour of Code

Last week, our students coded as part of's Hour of Code Week.  In 2013 during its inaugural year, our school was one of a handful in Hawaii who committed to have every student participate, and we kicked off the week with a bang. (Read my op-ed piece here: "Hour of Code a timely wake-up call for schools")

For the past three years, our students are really engaged during Hour of Code Week. Older students help their younger buddies with programs such as Kodable. It's wonderful to see the teaching that goes on when the big kids guide and support their buddies rather than telling them what to do. An hour goes by quickly when students are coding. We see students helping each other, discussing a challenge, and persevering when they need to start over. We know that some students go home and continue their coding activities because they want to get to the next level.

But how do we get from "Hour of Code" to actually teaching coding and programming in our schools? We hear about the shortage of programmers, and we see the dismal statistics about the lack of schools that offer coding or programming, We hear about other countries that require schools to teach coding/programming to all students. (Read "The countries introducing coding into the curriculum") Here in Hawaii, coding/programming is not something that is being discussed yet. Perhaps it is the lack of information or the lack of training by our teachers. Perhaps we need to look at the private sector to provide the initial training in schools.

Recently, I was able to attend a workshop that introduced me to programming using an Altino car. I struggled, and thankfully, there were people around to provide support. Now, I think I'm intelligent enough to learn new skills. I think I should be able to learn a new language . . . and coding/programming is like a language with specific terminology as well as instructions. One mistake, and the program doesn't work. It was frustrating and humbling, but it was also gratifying when the programming worked and the car did what it was supposed to!

I watched yesterday as a fourth grader coded a Wonder robot to go around different sized rectangles. I asked him to show me what he'd done. He had used drag and drop to code the robot, and I am confident that this is something I could do although I am sure it will take trial and error with more challenging tasks. I've done mazes on, and those are doable as well; the progression from simple to harder gives me a sense of accomplishment and encourages me to keep going. But coding and programming are a little different, I think. Perhaps being good at coding in engaging activities (look at all the possible choices at leads to programming more challenging tasks that will prepare our students for their futures.

The bottom line is that students should be exposed to coding, and there should be a progression from drag and drop to actual programming where students learn to use the language of computers to collaborate and problem-solve, communicate their thinking, create something, and then share it. There are so many opportunities on-line for anyone to learn, but unless we make time during the school day, most students won't know why it's important to learn. When I attended the Altino workshop, the presenter shared that in Korea, when students started learning to code, parents noticed that their children were communicating more clearly. That was unexpected, but it makes sense. Coding is a language that requires a logical progression from beginning to end. Communication is an essential component of coding.

As for me, the Altino car is sitting in its box. (10 hours of training wasn't sufficient for me to really feel confident.) I am waiting for my sons and grandsons to come home and maybe together, we'll figure it out. Until then, I'll continue to do the activities that are recommended by They look fun and less intimidating, and hopefully, I'll progress from drag and drop to actually creating something. It may take me awhile, but I am determined to get better!

3rd graders helped their kinder-buddies code using Kodable on the iPad.

This student was in the library during recess, checking out to see whether his instructions were accurate. He was having his Wonder robot go around the perimeter of different sized rectangles.