Comment: To Code or Not to Code?January 14, 2018, 4:40 pm GMT
Coding has always been a hot topic in the world of education. And now more than ever it is in the forefront, with the 'One Million Arab Coders' initiative announced by the Dubai Government. It seems that the big question is not if our kids should learn how to code, but when they should start learning how to code.
Many parents want their kids to start learning to code in the pre-primary years, before they can even read. As someone who has been teaching students of all ages technology skills for over 14 years, I've come to realize that instilling good habits, thinking, and behaviors around using technology is the best way to set kids up to be successful coders in their later years. The way you teach that in the pre-primary years, is that you teach them how to think and behave like a coder. Successful coders of any age and any programming language share a common set of behaviors, practices, and thinking, and that's what we can teach kids of any age. Once these behaviors, practices and thinking come naturally to students, then they should learn how to code.
In its most basic form, coding is a sequence of instructions. We can teach kids sequential thinking in the pre-primary years, with and without using technology. We teach them how to give and follow step-by-step instructions, whether it is step-by-step instructions on how to tie a shoe or step-by-step instructions on how to get a robot from one square on the floor to a different square. Kids should become comfortable giving and following step-by-step instructions both with and without technology. Along with following step-by-step instructions, part of sequential thinking is identifying patterns. Being able to break instructions apart, identify patterns, and put them back together in a different way is great practice for when they start coding with more difficult programming languages.
Another way we can teach kids to think like coders, is to teach them to ask questions. We're using technology and coding to answer questions and make sense of the world. We need to teach kids to be brave enough to ask those questions and have the confidence in themselves to be able to use technology to create and answer their own questions. We need to model for kids how we question things and try to solve problems. We practice being brave enough to try and keep trying until we answer our question.
Just like teaching our students how to think like coders, we can teach them how to behave like coders. The first practice is experimenting. If a student wants to do something, they need to start by experimenting and trying to do it themselves. Do not do things for them, especially when it comes to technology. Kids need to get into the habit of experimenting on their own and trying to figure things out.
Coding and working with technology is a process, and it begins by just having the confidence to try. Another coding practice we can teach kids of any age is debugging. If something doesn't work, students should try and fix it themselves. Model for them your thinking and how you go about solving a problem when it arises. Show them that if you can't figure something out on your own, that you should ask a friend. Working together and talking things through with another person is something all coders do. Instill in students not to give up when debugging, and that bugs occur all the time while using technology. We just try things different ways, work with different people, and keep trying until it works.
One of the main goals people have when coding is to use technology to solve problems. We need to begin by teaching kids to be problem finders. We can teach them to be cognizant of their community and surroundings and to be able to identify problems that they see, and that they can help solve. Begin by modeling for students your thinking when you see problems around you in the classroom or school that you can solve. Then you can move on to create opportunities for students to practice finding their own problems in their community.
We should not rush to teach pre-primary kids to code. We should begin by creating fun opportunities for them to enjoy working with technology and using that technology to explore the world. We should begin by building their confidence and then moving on to modeling and giving them practice to behaving like a coder, because successful coders of any language and any age share common practices and way of thinking. Once those behaviors and ways of thinking become habits, only then you should start teaching them to code.
Annie Barrows, Technology Integrator, Clarion School, Dubai
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