Hello World! : Coding in the Classroom

A New Kind of Literacy

Computer programming is the fundamental science behind an increasing amount of objects that we interact with in our daily lives. Without coding or computer science, there would be no iPhones, televisions, traffic signals, or Finding Nemo. But how many of us had the opportunity to pick up this essential skill while rising through the ranks of primary and secondary school? As Hadi and Ali Partovi, co-founders of Code.org, recently stated in an article for the Huffington Post, “only 9 states even recognize computer science as a math or science! Only 10% of schools even offer it.” With technology, and tech-related jobs, on the rise, shouldn’t we be trying to prepare our students as much as we can for the job market that they will be exposed to? Code.org has also released a video to attempt to ease some apprehension surrounding coding, which you can view by following this link or simply by clicking below:

The Rationale

“Okay,” you are probably saying at this point, “but can’t we just leave the programming to the programmers?” After all, there are already people who are more than happy to take up these jobs. John Naughton at the Guardian formed an excellent analogy in his article, appropriately titled, “Why all our kids should be taught how to code.” He said, “we made the mistake of thinking that learning about computing is like learning to drive a car, and since a knowledge of internal combustion technology is not essential for becoming a proficient driver, it followed that an understanding of how computers work was not important for our children.” I might even go so far as to suggest that a glossary knowledge of automobiles also be added to an effective curriculum. The goal is to arm students with as much relevant knowledge as we can before we kick them out of the proverbial nest and into “the real world.” If coding is one of these tools, I’ll be the first to say, “I’m in.”


The Next Move

If we continue to pigeonhole coding as a “math issue” or a “science issue” or even a “computer science issue,” no progress will be made anytime soon. Coding could be considered just as essential to the English language arts curriculum as reading, writing, speaking, or listening. ELA education is founded in provided students essential life skills, including problem-solving and appreciation for other cultures. Coding can be just another vehicle for this grand task. In fact, Parmy Olsen, for an article at Forbes.com, covered the inclusion of coding into the curricula of 550 schools in Estonia. She said of the bold decision to incorporate coding from first grade on, “the idea isn’t to start churning out app developers of the future, but people who have smarter relationships with technology, computers and the Web.” It seems that each new day brings a new technology to our doorstep. For ourselves and our students, these technologies should not be foreigners to us. In fact, it is computer science and the Web that help make our society a global society. Ultimately, it is time to dig into coding and connect to the globe. It all starts by saying, “Hello World!”


For more resources on learning to code, check out:

Code.org – www.code.org

Code School – http://www.codeschool.com/

Game-Based Learning: Friend or Foe?

The Popularity Contest

The notion of playing games is quite fair removed from the public opinion of what one might consider “teaching.” In fact, since their inception in 1947, video games have taken quite a great deal of flak. Over the years, concerned parents have referred to video games as brain-rotting, violent, and sexist. The fact remains that video games are extremely popular. Martha Irvine sums up a 2007 study in a review for the Huffington Post, stating that “ninety-seven percent of young respondents [12-17 year-olds] play video games” and “half of the respondents said they had played a video game the previous day.”


Good vs. Evil

Popularity, unfortunately, does little to prove that video games have content to disprove parental opinions. The question then becomes “do video games have the kind of merit that would not only convince parents of their worth but also of their place in the classroom?” The simple answer is that of many other age-old questions: “Yes…in moderation.” However, the simple answer does this issue justice.  Jordan Shapiro explains the pros of one video game that is being used in many classrooms already, called Gamestar Mechanic, stating that it “encourages social interaction. The ideas don’t stay isolated within a kid’s head. Instead, kid-game-designers create and share their learning experience with peers. In this way, they are motivated by relationships; kids are inspired to think of game creation as a way to articulate and express themselves. Likewise, they are motivated to interpret other people’s games and comment accordingly.”

games vs teachers

Idealism or Realism?

If used appropriately, it seems, that video games might soon find themselves as a staple of many English language arts classrooms. To that end, Terrell Heick goes so far in an article for Edutopia concerning the role of video games in classrooms to say that “video games not only have a role, but also demand a seat next to novels and poems, speeches and letters, essays and short stories.”  A bold statement, but perhaps there is some validity to Heick’s assertion. Given the right context, could video games be used as just another medium for education? Now, here, we finally might have a simple answer. With the right approach anything can be viewed as a text, and based on the popularity of video games, ELA educators are looking at a recipe for success in the digital age.

Teacher of the Future (1)

Technology and Testing

The Classic Method

If you have never experienced a standardized test in its original format, you have certainly missed out on an experience. After hours of grueling hard work, you exit the testing site, mentally drained and physically exhausted, uncertain as to whether you went back and answered questions #6 as you meant to. The process is tedious and involves using a pencil (only #2, mind you!) to fill in a vast array of bubbles on a “Scantron” sheet and more paperwork than a secretary is likely to see in several lifetimes. 
Bored college students sleeping in lecture hall
Good News!

The good news here is that this process may become just a little bit easier for students to tackle. In fact, Julia Lawrence, in an article for Education News, suggests that computerized testing may be closer than you think, “in the next two years, the majority of states will be adopting a new suite of standardized tests administered with the aid of a computer.” Imagine that. Save yourself from the hassle of reams of paperwork and arthritis-inducing pencil scribbling for several hours by simply sitting down at your nearest computer terminal and engaging in an otherwise extremely high-stakes and stressful test.

test comps

The Facts of Life

We have the good, now a little of the bad; there may be some drawbacks to computerized standardized testing as well. Patrick Ledesma of Education Week describes in his blog how some schools in Virginia are already using digital standardized tests, “for many schools that means taking away all those desktop and laptop labs for setting up individual testing stations. […] And some schools close their libraries so students can test on the computers.” So, during certain parts of the year, valuable technological resources are no longer available for any of their laundry list of potential academic uses. For students, there is really no decision that need be made. “Get out of class and just use a computer for hours? Where do I sign up?”  A study from Boston College also showed that “it [computerized standardized testing] adds considerably to the cost of testing and creates new test security concerns” and “it would penalize low-tech students with poor keyboard skills.”

girl testing


Decisions, decisions

Any new technology comes with a series of affordances and drawbacks. Ultimately, it will be an effort on the students part to make testing work, and the effort on the part of schools comes from choosing appropriate testing and creating/maintaining a positive space for students to learn and take these tests. Will it be worth removing the paper middle man in standardized tests, or will the traditional methodology stand the test of the ages? Time will tell.


http://www.bc.edu/research/nbetpp/publications/v1n2.html – The Gap between Testing and Technology in Schools

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/leading_from_the_classroom/2012/05/dreaming_about_future_technologies_during_online_testing_season_the_2012_nmc_horizon_report_k-12_edi.html – Technology for Online Standardized Testing vs. Technology for Teaching, Learning, and Creative Inquiry by Patrick Ledesma

http://www.educationnews.org/technology/samples-from-new-standardized-exams-show-up-online/ – Samples from New Standardized Exams Show Up Online by Julia Lawrence

Pictures from:

http://www.educationnews.org/technology/samples-from-new-standardized-exams-show-up-online/ – Students on computers

http://ethnicthoughtswithblackpenink.blogspot.com/ – Sleeping students

http://21k12blog.net/2010/11/18/open-computer-testing-putting-21st-c-learning-to-the-test/ – Girl smiling

Conquering Your Technophobia

The Fear
Everyone is afraid of something. For some people, it’s spiders; for others, it’s great heights; but for a select group, their fear is of technology. Now these people may not be afraid of electronic devices and digital media in the traditional sense of the word. For example, a technophobe does not fear the small, angry man inside her cell phone coming out to exact vengeance. Contemporary technophobes are those afflicted with more of a fear of change than anything else.

The Victims
Teachers may be more likely than other professionals to succumb to technophobia. While standards are constantly modified and revised and technology daily advances, teachers may cling to the safe and familiar worlds of hardcover anthologies and chalk-covered blackboards. A veteran in the field knows of her own past success without technology. Why should she risk learning to use a whole slew of complicated devices and services when it may take away from her own proven methodologies that don’t have so much electronic demand? A simple answer might be that students are a part of this rapidly expanding society and teachers must be in tune with the needs of these students.

Hope is Available
There is support available on a literally worldwide basis. Techno-conservatives need not take a leap of faith. Jeff Dunn, in his article, The Must-Have Guide To Helping Technophobic Educators, explains, “when we learn a new skill, we do not doubt that we need special training in that skill. For instance we would not fly a plane without taking flight lessons. Similarly we need training to ensure that we know how to integrate technology into the classroom. Technology is not an end in itself, but rather a means by which learning outcomes can be improved.” Ultimately, the goal is to benefit students to the greatest degree possible. Technology is a tool that allows, facilitates, and encourages that goal.

A Look Ahead

Once the astute educators of this nation can come to terms with technology and its place in the classroom, the next step is easy: connect. The internet provides connections to people and resources the world over. For example, a novice techno-user wants to find some easy ways to include technology in their classroom. A simple search returns multitudes of links including Kim Haynes’ article “12 Easy Ways to Use Technology in Your Classroom, Even for Technophobic Teachers” and a blog by Cate Blouke describing “Having Fun with Technology in the Classroom.” Even though, it may be scary at first, technology is a teacher’s ally.



Jeff Dunn, The Must-Have Guide to Helping Technophobic Teachers

Kim Haynes, 12 Easy Ways to Use Technology in Your Classroom, Even for Technophobic Teachers

Cate Blouke, Having Fun with Technology in the Classroom

Pictures from:
Cell Phone Man: http://mygadgetnews.com/tech/the-scoop-on-4g-technology-us-wireless-carriers
Handshake: http://www.madeontherange.com/Businesses/deerwood_technologies.html
Hope: http://www.hopeinspiredministries.org/