Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kids and coding. Yep, it can make a difference.

So let's talk about kids and coding. Just recently Ali Partovi said learning to code is imperative, believing computer science should satisfy a science requirement rather than a science elective. Why does he think it's imperative? "I can’t think of any other science that would better prepare you for life in the 21st century.” Interesting, but not a great justification.

The New York Times published an article titled "Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding." If you're a coder, you may be scratching your head about this, but think big manipulatives for coding.
The lessons do not involve traditional computer language. Rather, they use simple word commands — like “move forward” or “turn right” — that children can click on and move around to, say, direct an Angry Bird to capture a pig.
And some kids are having fun creating a program that directs the computer to do something.

What is the value of learning how to code? There are many good reasons for kids to learn how to code, but the main reasons that come to my mind are these. First, it's problem solving. Second, it requires they use logic. The students have to think multiple ways to solve the problem. Sometimes the solution is linear; sometimes the solution might require them to ask the computer to execute moves that seem counterintuitive. Third, it's creative. They are writing code and creating a program. When the thing runs cleanly, kids can say, "I made that. I made that program so the computer will do that."

But, as is the case with just about anything, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Not every kid is going to be good at coding and not every kid is going to want to try coding. I can see it being integrated in a variety of ways in elementary school. I can see it being a science requirement option though I don't know why it should be limited to science. In fact, if coding is that important and because it helps students with problem-solving, logic, and creativity, I'd make sure that students take at least one coding course in high school, but on an equal par with English, math, science, etc. That's assuming, of course, we continue to think about a middle and high school education as we have done traditionally. But that's a different topic for a different post.

In the mean time, if a coding class is an option, just say "yes."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Good learning can happen with trust and equitable opportunities

I read a blog post by a high school freshman with interest: Good Teaching Happens When Students Can Trust Educators. Before I read the post, I wondered if a more appropriate title might be "Good Learning Can Happen When Students Trust Educators."

Garrett, the student writer, speaks of Mr. McCoy with whom students could be open without fear of judgment, but who also knew they needed to listen to his counsel and be respectful.

The essence of Garrett's essay is mutual respect. Educators respect students and can expect the respect of the students. Trust and respect are earned, and must be earned again when lost.

I've seen the equality vs. justice images make their rounds through social media. I agree that equality is not the same as justice; I also think this image oversimplifies "justice" but the point is clear. The same might be said of how educators treat their students.

Treating our students equally is not the same as treating them equitably. Students who work on a class project want to be graded fairly or equitably, not equally. If one student works 15 hours on a project and does an adequate job, another student works 15 hours on the same project and does an amazing job, and yet another student works only 7 hours on the same project and does a good job, then equal grading will not make them happy. You can hear the chorus of "It's not fair!" even now. But if you grade them equitably, you grade them according to the quality of each individual's work. That is fair; it might even be just.

I think educators need to treat all students with equal respect. I believe educators need to be equally patient and creative with all students.

I don't believe every student should have equal opportunities to succeed because every student does not learn the same way, does not have the same skills or knowledge base, does not have the same capabilities nor the same aptitudes. So I believe that we need to offer students equitable opportunities to succeed. I also believe we need to offer students the same options for equitable opportunities. That is, while I might ask students to approach a task in a particular way, I offer every student the option of approaching the task in a way that makes sense to them. I can't offer options only to my favorite students (we all have them) or to the students I think are most likely to do a good job or be sufficiently creative or whatever my filters might be.

In other words, I have to trust that my students will rise to the occasion. And when they struggle, because some of them will struggle, I have to be ready to offer each and every one of my students the same level of care, trust, and respect; I have to offer the same level of belief in them and their abilities.

Friday, May 2, 2014

First grader's poetry charms and amazes

It's gone viral. NPR and Gawker have celebrated the work. Literature and poetry professor Michael Dumanis was quoted as saying "It captured the truth about personal space. The misspellings make it more primal and deliberate. At the end there's an epiphany about dancing and what that means."

Of course, the first grader spelled the words the best he or she could, so this poet wasn't really primal but, in some ways, deliberate.

I can only imagine how some educators might respond to this poem, especially one written in April (National Poetry Month) and so close to the end of the school year. They're looking at their standards and they're worried about "swrld" and "danst" and "lisin" and "mozik." They're worried about the child's inability to hear certain consonant or vowel sounds.

To be honest, "mozik" puzzles me a bit because I wonder how this poet speaks the word "music."

But no matter. I agree with much of the gushing: the imagery of the poem is lovely. And it is impressive for a first grader.

What I hope doesn't get lost is that it's much easier to teach a student how to spell than it is to try to capture this kind of abstract thinking and beauty.

I hope that well-meaning teachers don't damage the sensitivity and the creativity for the sake of spelling.