Week 6 EQ What are the arguments for and against coding in schools?

I have a very basic understanding of coding.  I’m a bit more informed just this summer as we have been studying emerging technologies and many of the coding apps have popped up on my search feed.  I knew they were out there for younger kids but my first impression was that of the lines of html code I have seen and watching movies from the 80’s where the genius kid punches in a bunch of numbers on a black screen and prevents Russia from gaining access to our nukes….I kid. Coding is what makes it possible for us to create software, apps and websites. It’s a language of codes that is specific and has specific outcomes.  Unlike real language there are no slang words, expressions or body language.  Seems to me it’s pretty straightforward. That’s not to say it doesn’t require a lot of user knowledge to communicate.  Perhaps it is much less nuanced. Which makes it extremely logical.

There is a huge amount of information out there on the web about coding and it’s place in the classroom. But is it is true pedagogy? Are there real advantages to introducing children and young people to this language of the 21st Century.

For the most part I found more information on the benefits of coding in schools as opposed to the detriments. Here are some of the most interesting points made.

For

  1. Students are taught to become active participators with technology and not just consumers.

    “Teaching coding at schools represents transforming a generation of students from passive consumers of technology to active creators. It encourages their creativity and prepares them for a future in which programmers will be in even greater demand (Zamora 2014). “

2. Teaching coding is much like learning a literacy skill.

This point was also made by Scratch creator Mitch Resnick in his Ted Talk about coding and it’s impact on learning (Barseghian, 2013). Mitch’s TedTalk was actually really helpful for me to see how coding can be used to impact learning in all of the subject areas. He discusses how coding is much like learning a literacy skill. We teach children to read and write. Coding is like learning to write in computer language. He makes a point of saying that we teach all children to write, that doesn’t mean that every child will grow up to be a professional writer. But it certainly doesn’t mean we stop teaching writing.  Perhaps by introducing children and young people to the world of coding we find the next computer engineer but chances are we won’t.  I loved that he made this point about coding instruction. That when we teach coding we teach kids three important skills for expressing themselves and for ANY job. Coding teaches kids to think creatively, work collaboratively and reason systematically (Barseghian, 2013).  All very important skills for the 21st Century.

3. Coding is the new literacy. I feel like this argument goes right along with Resnick’s point.

Coding”, it is said by some, is the “new literacy”. The ability to write and understand computer code, such folks argue, is increasingly fundamental to understanding how to navigate one’s way through, to say nothing of succeeding, in a modern society where more and more of our lives are enabled and/or constrained by the actions of devices and information systems that run on computer code. http://www.wise-qatar.org/coding-cognitive-abilities-michael-trucano

As a literacy of the emerging technology world do we do kids a disservice for at least not exposing them to this literacy.  Not sure on this one.

So yah, pretty much everywhere you look you find articles and websites singing praises to the world of code.  There are PLENTY of ways for kids to interact with code.  Here is my take on it a little bit. Is code teaching really necessary in the elementary school? Should it be reserved for the maker space, how can we expect new teachers to now be excellent at teaching code? When does playing with code just look like goofing around.

Against

  1. Schools should carefully examine the reasonings and final outcome benefits to teaching coding.

In his article Should All Students Learn How To Code  Michael Trucano made some very interesting points worth thinking about before all teachers follow the Pied Piper into the world of coding.

On school initiatives “many efforts have little pedagogical value in and of themselves”.

Coding can be viewed as; “edutainment! Shouldn’t we ensure that we are teaching the foundational reading and writing skills needed for success before we add in coding to our curriculum.”

Trucano does a great job of presenting both sides.  I see so much balance in this point.

As an extracurricular or enrichment activity in education systems that are already doing a good job in promoting the development of basic literacy skills, the introduction of efforts to promote coding in schools seems rather reasonable, especially where such efforts help engage or energize otherwise disinterested learners

 

http://www.wise-qatar.org/coding-cognitive-abilities-michael-truca

Gottfried Sehringer (2015) is a little more forceful in his outlook. His argument against coding stems from the belief that not ALL need to know it ALL. 

My advice? Don’t teach everyone how to code. Teach them how to identify and understand needs, as well as how to visually express logic. Teach them how technology works, so they can understand the realm of possibility and then envision game-changing innovations. And then create an environment where they don’t even have to think about writing code — where building great apps is as easy as using iTunes. Just drag and drop.

As it goes for younger students I see more of this type of plug and play coding (Scratch) as being the fun time, getting kids to think creatively and engage with technology as long as purpose is involved. But what about in a high school class where students can be taught in C++ or Basic.  For these students learning code can be directly transferred to a skill needed after graduation.  Edward Naillon wrote an extensive curriculum for high school teachers about how to go about teaching code effectively. He warns

Computer Programming can be a very tedious task. The slightest error in convention can render your program useless, or an error in logic can yield unexpected results. Some students have a hard time with this, and can be prone to feeling like a failure. A programmer will fail 10 times to succeed once. Most secondary students are impatient, and want to feel like they grasp the concept NOW. Waiting a week or two for it to click is almost unbearable for some. The student must be encouraged and realize that finding the solution sometimes depends on finding the methods that do not work. Approached correctly, the failures can help guide you to the correct solution (Naillon, 2011).

However, he goes on to discuss how a coding class can/should include some kind of history of computing, reflection on the “forefathers” of computing and the impact on the world and economy.  Coding also brings with it a whole bank of vocabulary acquisition.  To reason, write and reflect requires the coding student to have had years and years of reading and writing instruction as well! Thank goodness us “regular” teachers aren’t out of job yet!

For me, I don’t want to learn coding. I played around with scratch today and it was fun…ish.  But I don’t want to teach it.  So what if I had a tech teacher my students went to to learn the scratch while I teach the reading and writing, converting the writing they do with me into scratch!  This to me reflects the balance of a 21st century classroom.

References:

Barseghian, T. (2013, October 22). Learn to code, code to learn. Retrieved June 25, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/22/learn-to-code-code-to-learn/
Naillon, E. (2011). Teaching computer programming to high school students (Unpublished master’s thesis). Orville High School. http://oroville.wednet.edu/~Ed/resources/programming/Teaching_Computer_Programming_To_High_School_Students.pdf
Sehringer, G. (2015, Februrary). Should We Really Try to Teach Everyone to Code? Retrieved June 25, 2016, from http://www.wired.com/insights/2015/02/should-we-really-try-to-teach-everyone-to-code/
Trucano, M. (2014, August 12). Should All Students Learn How to Code? Pros and Cons. Retrieved June 24, 2016, from http://www.wise-qatar.org/coding-cognitive-abilities-michael-trucano
Zamora, W. (2014, April 1). Why coding should be taught in elementary school. Retrieved June 25, 2016, from https://techblog.evan-moor.com/2014/04/01/coding-taught-elementary-school/comment-page-1/

 

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4 thoughts on “Week 6 EQ What are the arguments for and against coding in schools?

  1. akmathteacher says:

    Mitch Resnick makes an interesting point in his Ted Talk. We need to keep in mind that with writing all styles are basically the same. The sentence structure and paragraph forms are all the same. But with coding there are many different styles; c++, basic, JavaScript, and more. The structure for each is different. While coding is similar to writing it is also different in many ways.

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  2. ruralakteacher says:

    “Schools should carefully examine the reasonings and final outcome benefits to teaching coding.” I am with you on this topic of figuring out the outcome to coding before it is introduced into a classroom. There has been many things that I have seen happen where some people do not even have good information before jumping on the bandwagon. I believe it would be counterintuitive to start a coding program if there was not an educational basis for doing it. There is a place for fun things in a classroom and playtime is important. Making goals is just another step you want to teach students to become successful when they become adults.

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  3. waclawskid says:

    I think you can code or not. There are real befits to coding, but I can get most of the same benefits listed in these article teaching chess. I agree with your quote that “Schools should carefully examine the reasoning and final outcomes to teaching coding.” I also don’t understand this “New Literacy” term. Are we going to go to the store and have to code to make the register work? I think this is an exaggeration. Would you agree with that?

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  4. josies677blog says:

    Melissa,
    The cons against teaching in schools that you listed were very informative. I am pro for the movement. I didn’t think about the kids that do not want to learn to code. I do agree that coding is not for everyone. However, if coding was in the future rollout as a GER, much like Algrebra, maybe lighter levels could be implement such as the drag and drop code (pop coding). Being able to understand the logic behind the pseudo code might be sufficient enough for most people. Coding is not for everyone.

    Josie

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