Imagine this scene: a classroom buzzing with 5- and 6-year-olds huddled in groups. They are writing a series of instructions using symbols so that their “robot” (another member of the class) can “explore earth” (navigate a simple obstacle course). After they’re finished writing, they execute their “code” and see how the robot does. Then they discuss what worked and what didn’t work – learning the process of “debugging” their code.
Welcome to coding in Kindergarten.
At John Knox Christian School (JKCS), we want our students to be creators of technology, not just consumers of technology. It is this vision that has motivated us to implement a new coding curriculum from our youngest students in Kindergarten all the way to Grade 12. This vision is part of a larger picture – that of graduates who are aware of the world and its needs, who know their value as children of God, and who are equipped to better the world with their unique gifts and skills.
In 2016, the British Columbia Ministry of Education introduced a new curriculum that included a coding component in all the grades. But for the leadership at JKCS, our reasons for including coding goes beyond meeting curriculum requirements. Rather than being shaped by the technology our students use, this curriculum will help them use technology to shape the world around them. If we want coding and computer science to be anything other than a skill, we must nurture its connection to creativity and to ethics. We must ground it in collaborative and independent efforts to solve real-world problems. To do that, we encourage our students to look at their new skills not as the end goals but as tools for transformation.
What is coding?
Coding, to put it simply, is using computer language to tell a computer what to do. The skills necessary for coding include being able to analyze a problem, break it down, engage critical thinking, and logic. This “thinking” element is often referred to as computational thinking. “Coding” is, in a way, a shorthand name for a broader set of skills necessary for navigating an age of technology.
Why teach coding?
With technology being everywhere, it is important for students to not only know how to use it, but to understand how it works. It’s not just about raising a new generation of computer programmers, it’s about developing basic skills to operate in the world, similar to learning math or English. Teaching this way of thinking in the early grades is advantageous because students can build on that foundation as their capacity for sophistication increases.
Through teaching coding, students are also developing skills in how to break apart complex problems, how to develop complex solutions, and how to use empathy to design for people. Even if students do not become programmers in the future, they will be able to use the skills developed from learning how to code in building furniture, solving issues of social justice, urban planning, and any field of work they choose to pursue in the future.
How will coding be taught?
At JKCS, the elementary school’s coding and design-based curricula will help develop students’ connection to the world around them by engaging them in imaginative explorations of how they can make an impact. From Kindergarten to Grade 2, the activities will be unplugged, such as games or the example listed in the introduction. Beginning in Grade 3, students will get to learn and apply their skills on apps and in a computer environment.
There are six components to how this new material will be taught: Computational Thinking, Programming/Coding, Design Thinking, Computer Science, Digital/Media Literacy, Computing Practices, and Information Literacy.
The elementary grades program will lay the groundwork for students in Grades 7-12 to pursue specialized learning in technology, programming, coding, computer science, media, or design thinking if they choose to. As students mature, we hope to create possibilities for them as scientists, mathematicians, coders, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and anything else. Almost every field will be shaped by data and devices, and we want JKCS students not to simply respond to those changes but to be at the forefront of making change and creating solutions that are ethical, equitable, and sustainable.
How is the school developing the coding curriculum?
JKCS is working with James Denby and Robin Ulster of IdeaDriven Education to consult on developing coding curriculum and facilitate Professional Development workshops to help our teachers learn how to teach coding.
We envision our graduates as confident and adaptable because they have been challenged with a relevant curriculum. They have the skills and knowledge to understand what is shaping the world. That’s what teaching coding is about at John Knox Christian School.
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