We asked three Ontario educators three questions
related to their experience with coding and computational thinking.
Donna Forster is a Student Program Support Teacher with the London District Catholic School Board.
Jamie Mallais is a teacher with the Superior Greenstone District School Board.
Ryan Matthews is an Instructional Coach with the Thames Valley District
What was the main reason(s) that you began coding/computational thinking activities with students?
Donna Forster: I was looking for ways to engage students at lunch time in the hope of reducing behaviours that occurred during that block of time and I was aware that students were unsure of what computer science was, even those leaving our school in grade 8. At the same time, the Prime Minister of Canada the Education Minister and the whole world was communicating the importance of computational thinking, coding and opening up to the idea of "measuring what matters". I wanted the students from my school to have a "leg up" on what was/is obviously "coming down".
Jamie Mallais: I started coding with my students because of the math connections. I wanted to use practical and interactive tools to help cement understanding for specific content. It had the added benefit of helping the students think in terms of variables (if I change this line of code, what will change in my outcome) as well as making math more fun and less intimidating. We made connections with geometry, angle relationships, and linear equations.
Ryan Matthews: I saw coding as an opportunity to challenge my students in ways I wasn't able to before. I saw them engage in a task with an unwavering determination to see the task through. As I became more comfortable with the ins and outs, I began to see just how many ways coding/CT could used to amplify our curriculum.
What were some memorable moments, quotes or experiences from your time working with students in coding/computational thinking activities?
DF: In general, I noticed spatial reasoning, spatial thinking, and spatial language use. I also noticed students using the tools to develop mathematical thinking. Specifically, we looked at Spatial Sense and Geometry. I noticed our students step up and become leaders. I noticed students being more engaged, and I noticed some wonderful and memorable quotes from our students:
- "Mrs. Forster your code is wrong" - Kindergarten student
- "I'm so proud of myself. Guess who is smart now"" -Grade 8 student
- "I'm a programmer" - Kindergarten student
JM: I've watched students work together and collaborate to trouble-shoot a problem with their programs. Students have physically acted out their programs to break down the steps and vocalize their thinking to share with their peers. I've also watched students stick with a problem and keep working to solve it when traditionally they just give up or skip to the next problem.
RM: We were in Scott McKenzie's (@ScottMcKenzie27) class doing a patterning activity with Arduinos. I challenged a group to code some LEDs to mimic stop lights. We worked through what a typical stop light and then the group went at it. I told them I didn't think they could do it A few minutes later they called me over to check out their code. I was greeted with a "Booyah, we did it, in your face!" The enthusiasm and excitement, all related to problem solving, was awesome and we caught it all on video. I saw incredible focus, determination (stick-to-it-iveness), curiosity and learning within these coding tasks. It was really eye-opening.
What suggestions would you give to someone who is thinking of introducing students to coding/computational thinking activities?
DF: Do not be afraid to start. Just DO IT! Learn with your students. Have fun. Reach out to others for help (secondary school, other students, twitter, workshops, books), do on line tutorials (scratch, scratch junior, hour of code). Be humble. You are never too old to learn something new.
JM: DO IT! Don't be afraid to try it - you might not know everything (or anything) to start, but learn beside your students and let them develop their computational thinking abilities. Or, let your students be the experts and teach each other.
RM: I would suggest trying out whatever you are going to ask your students to do first. I feel that in experiencing it, you will get a better sense of whether the task is appropriate for your students (in terms of the challenge and learning). Dr. Gadanidis gave me the best advice when it comes to coding that I think of often when designing tasks. He said to not let the coding get in the way. Simple coding, complex math.
Follow-up questions for educators:
- How do coding and computational thinking activities give students a "leg up"?
- What role does equity play in terms of providing coding and computational thinking tasks for all of our students in all of our schools?
- How does coding provide an interesting and valuable entry point into the investigation of mathematical concepts?
- What role does resilience play in coding tasks?
- Is it possible to transfer this "stick-to-it-iveness" (copyright Ryan Matthews) to other areas of learning?
- How do coding and computational thinking tasks facilitate collaboration?
- Are there specific students who, while normally quiet and introverted, seem to come out of their shells and “teach others” when engaged in coding and computational thinking tasks?
Donna Forster works as a Special Education Teacher for the London District Catholic School Board. She considers herself a lifelong learner and is always looking for new things to try. Most recently, she has been learning coding and robotics in an intergenerational learning environment where students teach teachers and teachers are students of students.
Ryan Matthews is an Instructional Coach with the Thames Valley District School. He is passionate about the purposeful integration of technology to both engage and empower his students. He still considers himself a novice when it comes to coding but is learning more and more every day. Ryan is regularly exploring both Scratch and Arduino applications for new ways to integrate each into the curriculum.
Jamie Mallais is currently teaching mathematics, social science, and continuing education at Mantiouwadge High School with the Superior Greenstone District School Board. She is passionate about using and incorporating technology in her daily life along with her teaching practice and is a part of the SGDSB Technology Champions Team.