Why do we do what we do?
We want to develop children who are:
- Engaged, curious, and playful
- Empowered, and informed
1. People over products
Learning outcomes come first with technology as a tool not an outcome. When we, as educators, start with learning outcomes first and then develop class activities, in that process we identify the tools we need to deliver the class activities. It is only when we execute the steps in this order that we can achieve holistic learning outcomes.
- Identify suite of learning outcomes
- Develop class activities to achieve the learning outcomes
- Identify the tools e.g. technologies to deliver the class activities
If we were to focus on technologies first then there will be gaps in the learning outcomes achieved. How can you tell if you are focused on technologies first? These are the types of questions or comments I hear that indicate a focus on technologies first:
- “Which programming language should my child learn? Which one is the best?”
- “I want my child to build an app.”
- Them: “Do you have a class that teaches Raspberry Pi? We’re not interested in learning to use an Arduino, only a Raspberry Pi.” Me: “What would you like to build with a Pi? What would you like to learn?” Them: “We’re not sure, but we just want to use a Raspberry Pi.”
People and learning outcomes are our primary focus. We focus on:
- development of fundamental and transferable skills
- encouraging resilience and a growth mindset
- learning from trial and error and feeling comfortable with uncertainty
- exploring various problem solving approaches
- learning computational thinking, design thinking, and systems thinking
- a technology agnostic approach to learning
The technology used is not as important. You can achieve a lot of useful learning outcomes with desktop computers or unplugged activities.
Have conversations with educators to see what their focus is on. Do they have a people or outcome first focus or a technology first focus?
2. Fundamentals not recipes
The beauty in learning to code in not just in learning a new language or the ability to develop digital solutions. There are underlying benefits such as learning various thinking skills: computational thinking, systems thinking, design thinking and creative thinking.
If you teach children to code by telling them to follow prescriptive instructions, like they are following a cake recipe, then they miss out on all this goodness.
At Coding Kids we teach our children these “quotable quotes” to help them with the learning process. We have 5 principles of learning to code:
1. Make a plan
We can break down large projects into a series of small, achievable steps.
2. Do one step at a time
If we focus on one step at a time, we can be clear in our minds as to what we are trying to build and solve for that one step.
3. Have a go
We learn from trial and error. Sometimes we may not know exactly which block we need but we can have a guess and check the results.
4. Test your code
We test our code to identify bugs as early as possible and debug our code.
5. Don’t give up
Be resilient. We learn from breaking down problems and using trial and error.
We cover the basic logic patterns:
- Sequencing: order of instructions
- Branching: decisions by checking conditions to alter the execution sequence
- Looping: repeating a sequence of instructions until a condition is reached
We become familiar with these logic patterns by using them to develop solutions in various contexts and projects.
Ask your child about how they are learning to code. Do they break down the project or problem first? Do they openly talk about trying things that don’t work and then finding the solution that does work?
3. Authentic Learning
Authentic learning is learning through real life projects. For example we can build a Pac-man style game in Scratch. The end result is that the student builds a game that they can invite their family and friends to play. The student can even email the link to the game to a relative or friend. The class activity is not to research about the history of the Pac-man game and to write an essay about it, it is actually to build the game.
Building a simple Pac-man game is fun and engaging because it is fun challenge to recreate a classic arcade game. However, in the process you learn about:
- Cartesian coordinates
- Autonomous movement
- Player controlled movement
- Creating boundaries to movement
- Using variables to store data e.g. to keep score
- Changing the data in the variable
- Hiding and showing sprites
- Designing game endings: you win and game over
- Using decisions/branching to trigger game endings
- Game setup, game loop and game end
Authentic learning encourages intrinsic drivers and genuine motivation for learning.
This is vastly different to gamified learning. There are various online learning platforms that teach you to code. Some are a bit too gamified with piles of rewards e.g. flashing lights, sounds playing, points won, and levels and abilities unlocked. The risk with gamification of the learning process is that motivation is now dependent on extrinsic drivers. The student misses out on experiencing the challenges and frustrations of the learning process, but they also miss out on the satisfaction of puzzling out a problem and discovering a solution or successfully debugging code. Challenges and frustrations are an opportunity to exercise the resilience muscle, like any muscle it needs regular exercise to become stronger.
The relentless pace of technological advancement will make these technological challenges and frustrations more ubiquitous. So we better start practicing now and above all learn to enjoy the journey.
What projects is your child interested in building or inventing? Have conversations about the lows and the highs of the learning journey.
4. Mistakes are stepping stones
At Coding Kids we create a risk-taking environment. It does not matter if the children get everything correct, it is about making mistakes and learning from them. We highlight that abilities and intelligence can be developed through practice, hard work, dedication and motivation.
Children who have a growth mindset are more likely to learn from their mistakes, be motivated to succeed, put in more effort, take a challenge head on, take risks, seek feedback, learn more and learn faster.
We openly share our mistakes and how we learned from them. We ask these questions:
- How did you keep going when things were tough?
- What did you learn from today’s session?
- What are some different strategies you tried out today?
Have these conversations with students and teachers? What do you learn from each other?
5. Engaged equals learning
When children are engaged, they are learning. We don’t cram content and we don’t make kids jump through a required number of hoops to get to the finish line. We focus on the process not the output.
We don’t promise that your child will build an app and market it by the end of the program. Such promises lead to low completion rates and tutors completing the code for the students to make the deadline.
Technology is sometimes viewed as a black box. Media doesn’t help with stories of 9 years making $1000s selling their iPhone app and meeting Tim Cook, CEO of Apple. This leads to questions from parents asking to teach their child to build an iPhone app. I wonder whether soccer coaches or piano teachers here similar requests. This is equivalent to saying, “I want my child to play Maurice Ravel's “Gaspard de la nuit” on the piano” which is a technically demanding piano piece.
Engaged children equals learning children. Don’t worry about making apps or making money. Enjoy the journey of exploration, discovery and creativity.
What subject areas is your child interested in? How can you explore this space to design your own solutions?