In September, 2016 the UOIT STEAM 3D Maker Lab began a journey to determine how maker pedagogies could be implemented in Ontario schools. The STEAM 3D Maker Lab is located in the Faculty of Education, University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). In partnership with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Council of Directors of Education (CODE), we have been working with 20 different school boards across Ontario. Sixty teachers visited the Lab to engage in professional development that focused on pedagogical approaches to making, including learning how to write simple code. Following that visit, members of our STEAM 3D Maker team, consisting of nine women with different educational backgrounds, traveled to each school to offer additional support and to observe how the maker culture was beginning to permeate the learning environment.
The making, coding, hacking, and innovating that we witnessed in each of the schools was awe-inspiring. Although each school took a different approach to implementing making, whether technology centred (creating code on iPads or computers, using LEGO EV3s or Spheros), completely unplugged (making items out of wood, using saws, drills and hammers) or a mix of both (implementing technology into physical items that students made), we were impressed. Through the differing approaches, coding became more than just a novelty activity for students to participate in; it became a vehicle for students to learn various transferable skills that are necessary for success in the every changing workforce of the 21st century.
In the 20 schools, students learned colour coding, block coding and some coding languages, such as Java and Arduino, through robotics (EV3, Sphero and Ozobots) and platforms such as Scratch and Scratch Jr. Regardless of the approach that was taken to learn coding, through learning to code in engaging activities, students developed critical transferable skills, which have become essential for success in today’s workforce. Computational thinking is one of those skills that is fostered through coding. By learning to code, students gain the ability to think about processes as stepwise productions, where each step is critical for the success of the process as a whole. The ability to write procedurally directly connects to various subject curricula, such as math (problem solving), science (scientific method), language (procedural writing). More broadly, it can connect to students’ socio-emotional ability to reason and think about things logically.
In addition to the development of computational thought processes, students in elementary schools today are less reluctant to make mistakes coding and this contributes to the development of a growth mindset. At times, teachers were not the expert in the room and they learned to embrace the unknown and allow their students to take the lead in coding. These students develop resiliency, problem solving techniques, critical thinking and leadership skills, all of which are necessary for their futures. In every case, the students’ level of engagement and motivation was obvious. In our interviews with participating teachers, they commented that this increased level of engagement led to a decrease in behavioural concerns in their classrooms. As a result, there was little need for classroom management.
The benefits of students learning to code are clear and we have observed the potential of learning to code and coding to learn at each of the 20 schools that have participated in this MoE/ CODE/ UOIT STEAM 3D Maker Lab research study. It is important for students to explore coding, not so that we produce a generation of programmers, but because coding fosters important transferable skills such as communication, collaboration, innovation, critical thinking and problem solving - skills that will be emphasized in the curriculum refresh that the Ontario Ministry of Education is currently undertaking.
Dr. Janette Hughes (@JanetteMHughes) is Canada Research Chair in Technology and Pedagogy and Professor in Digital Literacies at the Faculty of Education, University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Her research areas include: critical digital literacies, digital making, production pedagogies, adolescent literacies and identity, writing and digital media, new literacies and conceptualizations of learning, and digital citizenship. She is the author of The Digital Principal and she has published over 50 research articles and has presented her work nationally and internationally.
Laura Dobos (@dobos_laura) is a Masters student and Research Assistant at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. She works under the leadership of Canada Research Chair, Janette Hughes. Laura has a BSc in Biology and Nutrition from the University of Guelph, and graduated from UOIT’s Faculty of Education with a BEd degree in 2017. Having a background in athletics and the arts, she is always striving to incorporate interdisciplinary approaches to learning in the classroom. Her passion for learning and growing has pushed her into the work of makerspaces and makerspace education.