I was never a fan of computer coding. I learned the Basic language back in high school and some HTML in college but I never really took to it until this class. In Rushkoff’s article (2012), he states “code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world” and I couldn’t agree more. In school, we teach students how to use computers but we don’t bother to teach them how to program them. Rushkoff lists some of the obstacles in getting computer programing in schools: curriculum expectations, overworked teachers and legal restrictions on inviting minors to use websites, just to name a few. My school has been lucky. In the last five years, when teaching IT we have participated in the Hour of Code as an introduction to coding. From that event held annually in December, students have the freedom to explore even more coding should they wish. But I never taught it as a unit plan. This year, the teacher who is filling my IT position while I am on leave is doing nothing but coding. He sees the value, as does Rushkoff, in that “coding is best taught in an interactive environment”. That by actually doing and making code, makes our students better able to “stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with them instead.” I am beginning to see that getting all students code literate is essential in preparing them for their future.
There are no specific curriculum expectations from the Ministry of Education in Ontario that refers to computer programming for K-8 even though there is a general consensus that digital games, and the making of digital games, are beneficial in the classroom. A great quote from the Jenson and Droumeva (2016) illustrates that “creating digital artifacts entails technical, computational and aesthetic forms of activity whose success depends on bridging between arts and sciences – an intersection increasingly characteristic of the contemporary job market and effective participation in social life.” Designing and making digital games can provide this ideal framework for operationalizing 21st century learning as well as a way of tackling issues as student disengagement. Computational thinking should be considered a core subject and should be introduced to students at an early age. The idea that students who are in my classroom and are considered to be digital natives come with computational and procedural logic to design games just because of game playing are wrong. “Just being familiar with digital technologies and using them in one’s everyday life does not necessarily translate into skillfully using them for learning (Jenson and Droumeva, 2016).” In this study, many grade 6 students learned how difficult it is to do computer programming. This to me is a sign that we are not starting students young enough to nurture and scaffold computation thinking and learning. This is another reason that I am beginning to be on board with teaching computer coding in the classroom as a main staple.
The study also revealed some interesting gender issues that stood out. Girls were less likely to own gaming platforms or play games online. Boys’ confidence and scores were higher after the post-test when it came to computer use and programming. These results can confirm that playing video games creates a simple base knowledge of computation and confidence about technical computer skills. Imagine then what children can learn from constructing games beyond just playing games? I noticed this division between girls and boys in my classroom when we participated in the Hour of Code. When asked after participating and trying different coding software, who might consider taking more coding classes or a career in coding, few girls’ hands would be raised. Almost all the boys indicated they would be interested in furthering their computational learning. Another example is watching my nephew who is ten and my niece who is six play Minecraft. My nephew is using potions to kill zombies while my niece is decorating her house. This is a sad moment for me, despite not being a programmer myself, because this generation in my class has not known a world without computers and yet gender divisions still exist stronger than ever. It is why I continued to participate in the Hour of Code with my students to re-introduce the world of coding to the girls in my classroom.
Lastly, I decided to tackle the program software called Alice as my second serious play activity. Alice is the software my fill-in teacher at my school is using this year in the IT program with grade 7 & 8 students. I downloaded Alice onto my laptop. I began by looking up tutorials on YouTube. I found the island and shark attack tutorial and decided to follow since the task to play with different software is overwhelmingly vague. In the readings study, for those grade sixes who were overwhelmed, the facilitators often had students recreate the game that was used as the exemplar. And so this is what I did with the shark attack tutorial. I have to admit I still struggled with the more advanced features of commands. Many times I had to stop, rewind and re-watch the demo just to get back on track. However, I finally made the little game activity successfully. I learned many things about myself from this struggle with Alice. I learned that I do not have a computational mind naturally. I learned that I can persevere when needed. And that I learned that coding is difficult and therefore, appreciate those that do it and do it well.