Coding is not just for math class

Not every student wants to be a programming expert or will master every STEM skill. But, that’s not why I incorporate coding into the classroom. There’s much more to coding than science, numbers and intense computing workshops. Coding is an introduction to using creativity as a means to problem-solve, an entry to future careers and a language of its own. And, to the surprise of many, coding can be applied in any classroom environment.

I’ve identified three easy steps to take incorporate coding into the classroom, no matter the subject. By following this, students will have the opportunity to increase their digital literacy while building confidence with a new skill--something we should all be able to get behind.

Survey your students. As a makerspace director and technology coordinator it should come as no surprise that coding plays a huge part in my lesson plans. Many of the students who come to the makerspace are interested in playing around with coding. I’ve found that by allowing learners the freedom to explore areas that interest them, I can easily identify what sparks their creativity and grabs interest. Prior to coming up with a new curriculum, I survey my students to see what they are interested in learning. Taking this into consideration makes it easy to gain (and keep) students engaged throughout the school year.

Another tip: I’ve seen colleagues get so caught up in the need to ‘cover the curriculum’ that they often forget what they sought out to teach in the first place. Taking time to create goals, reflect and take student opinions into account makes the whole process much more efficient, especially when implementing a new concept.

At its core, coding is meant to be student-driven. Most of the tools that I use in the classroom are targeted to students and are meant to be hands-on, which brings me to my next step: identifying the right equipment to help on your coding implementation journey.

Source the right tools. Many teachers feel overwhelmed by the laundry list of technology that is available for the classroom. As simple as it seems, research really is one of the main aspects to picking a tool to integrate. I take baby steps with all of the technology that I use, and at the end of the year I evaluate the tools and decide what will stick around, and what can leave. Here are a few that I’ve kept around:

  • Kano. These kits come with all of the equipment students need to build a computer, program it and use it for a wide variety of popular apps and coding projects. All of the pieces are kid-friendly and provide flexibility for learners to build and code at their own pace. It’s a great feeling to see the accomplishment that students feel being able to say that they built a computer from scratch and programmed it themselves, and then use it for activities throughout the year.
  • Raspberry Pi. This is one of my favorite coding tools. It all started with a student project, and then I found myself completely immersed in the possibilities that this tool can create. Raspberry Pi gives students the opportunity to learn programming skills and implement the computer to power other projects, making it an essential in many of my coding-based lesson plans.
  • Scratch. Scratch lets students build their own interactive stories, games and animations. I love that this programming language fosters creative thinking and reasoning. I’ve even had students use it to build arcade games. One of the best parts is how it’s appropriate for young students and can be introduced early.

Fail forward. Much of coding is based on trial and error. Keep this in mind so you can encourage students and help them turn healthy frustration into motivation. If you’ve never tried coding before, it’s going to seem like a challenge at first to incorporate it into an existing lesson plan. Mistakes will happen—that's not only normal, it's encouraged!

Students should feel comfortable making mistakes and trying something new. When teachers model this behavior and own mistakes proudly, it allows failure to be a guiding force in lesson plans, rather than an embarrassment. Don’t let fear of failure be something that deters students from trying something new, and similarly, don’t let it deter you from bringing new skills and concepts into your classroom.

Nick Provenzano is an English teacher and technology curriculum specialist at Grosse Point Public Schools in Michigan. Visit his blog TheNerdyTeacher.com.

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at knamahoe@smartbrief.com

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