If/Else Statements & Substrings: How I’ve Found Value in Teaching Computer Science

When I began this new position in August, teaching Technology Education, I really had no idea what I wanted to include in the curriculum.  So naturally, I asked my students.  Student voice is really important to me and when they feel their opinions have value, I believe the learning becomes more authentic and relevant.

I had a student (okay, more than one) that said they wanted to learn how to create websites from scratch/make their own video games/make their own apps/etc/etc.  I smiled nicely and moved forward with the other suggestions with which I was more comfortable.  I am a self proclaimed Ed Tech Princess but I didn’t know diddly squat about “coding” or “programming” or even a place to start learning.

Enter:  My twitter feed became flooded by members of my PLN on #edtechchat and #kyedchat.  I kept seeing hashtags pop up on my Twitter feed like #kidscancode #hourofcode.  Okay.  I didn’t get it.  I didn’t participate in the Hour of Code (which sort of makes me cringe at this point) because I didn’t understand it or see the value.  The “coding” epidemic was becoming a trend (okay maybe it already WAS a trend) and I just couldn’t figure out why.

One thing I committed to at the beginning of the school year was to step outside of my comfort zone. If I asked my students, who “hated” technology, to do the same in my class it was only fair that I held the same expectation for myself.  KySTE 2014 rolled around I flagged the sessions around “Coding” and “Programming.”  My first introduction was a session on Scratch.  I was a beginner and couldn’t tell you the difference between Javascript and CSS and I thought Ruby was only a beautiful stone that I wished my husband would buy more often.  I was completely and totally lost.

I began to pack up my computer and head to another session because the elementary school teacher was way over my head.  (My pride was also crushed during that session as she showed us sample games created by her 2nd graders.  So, yeah.)  There was a lovely Technology Integration Specialist sitting beside me who sensed my panic and frustration.  I never got her name or her district but that day…she was my technology angel.  She helped me find opportunities that have opened a pathway of instruction in my classroom that is valuable, authentic and something I personally LOVE.

HOW I STARTED CODING IN MY CLASSROOM

Codecademy.com:

I started small…a few kids (that WANTED to learn) created free accounts onCodecademy.  I did a little work myself so that I could help my students but we very much learned together.  It was difficult, sometimes frustrating but very rewarding.  Once we all got the hang of Javascript (some basic commands, etc) we moved toCode.Org.

Flappy Birds & Code.org

I found a tweet from Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) on his elementary students “programming” their own Flappy Bird game (Click HERE for his blog post that inspired me) .  I knew I couldn’t pass that up.  My kids would DIE of excitement with any mention of Flappy Birds.  It is a very simplistic puzzle game that helps them understand the blocks and how to piece them together to get it to “do what you want it to do.”

Scratch

Next we moved to Scratch. I know that Scratch is designed to be easy for the “beginner” but it was not easy for me.  Or my students.  We had to do a few introductions before beginning this.  Other teachers may have better ways to teach programming via Scratch and I would LOVE to hear ideas and suggestions.  However, we just started with the videos.  Scratch does an outstanding job of giving a huge selection of video tutorials.  Luckily they aren’t YouTube so my students have access to watch them on their computers.

FINDING THE VALUE

CREATORS, NOT JUST CONSUMERS…

I never thought I would be able to TEACH coding/programming.  But the thing is…students (and me-duh) are huge consumers of technology.  I’m not sure I could function through a school day without my phone or iPad or certainly not my MacBook.  My students are the same.  It is important for me to help them understand where this technology comes from…why and how it works.  I heard students talking earlier today, “Dude.  You know on emails…that little preview window…is that substrings?  I think that’s substrings.”  #WINNING  (!!!)

LANGUAGE ARTS TEACHERS, YOU. ARE. WELCOME…

I know it sounds crazy, but this type of instruction does teach those core content standards.  When you’re declaring a variable in Javascript, you can’t call it myName one time and myname another time.  It’s two different commands and when students are coding they are PAYING ATTENTION TO THEIR GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION.  They have to because it matters.  It’s part of the skill.  If they do more learning where they have to “pay attention” to those types of things, it is going to become a habit which is, in turn, going to spill over into other content areas.  (Halleluyer)

EQUATIONS & CONDITIONS…

I never used to like math.  Or maybe math didn’t like me very well.  Either way, it was difficult for me which is why I didn’t like it.  I have to work REALLY hard and pay REALLY close attention to what I am doing.  Coding and programming are very mathematical to me.  If you do an equation and don’t follow the order of operations you are going to get the wrong answer, unless you are a wizard of course.  If you don’t follow the formula, the computer doesn’t understand you.  I like that coding helps students practice and refine those skills.

PROBLEM SOLVING…

I will be the FIRST to tell you that sometimes learning a coding language is tough.  And frustrating.  And sometimes you might want to punch the monitor.  But that feeling of finding your error and fixing it…well, there just ain’t no feelin’ like it!  I have sat down with my students and we have problem solved until we were blue in the face.  Today …we figured it out.  We all danced.  And high fived.  And sang little made-up songs about how smart we all were.  And then helped the rest of the room figure it out.

BREEDING CONFIDENCE & PRIDE…

I’m not sure that, even if I had a doctorate, something could make me feel as smart as coding.  Why is that?  I think because I don’t really know very many people that know how to do it.  My students (my MIDDLE SCHOOL students)  are coding.  They are PROUD.  They are creating games and then playing their own games.  They are asking ME if they can PROGRAM a game in their “down time” after they finish an assignment.  They are proud of what they are doing and I’ve had more kids come up to me, telling me they want to learn more so that they can make an app and sell it or even “become a professional coder.”  It makes my heart smile.

 

 

I can’t say that I believe every content area should code in their classrooms. I am a firm believer that students, young students, should be exposed to coding and programming. It teaches valuable skills that directly affect other content areas and enhance the skills necessary to be successful!

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