Anywhere. Anytime.

Activity 6 – Contemporary Issues in Education

The two main issues that are relevant to my teaching practice are coding in schools and the maker movement.

The UK have just embarked on their second year of compulsory Computing education. The impetus of this new curriculum, from primary through to early secondary years, spear-headed by the then education spokesperson, Michael Gove, was to rekindle the innovation and programming skills seen in the UK workforce in the early 1980s. Thus, moving from ICT (where students learn how to use software packages such as Microsoft Office) to Computing (where students learn how to program their own software and how technology functions), is a trend that is seen outside the UK as well. Estonia, Finland, Australia and the USA have already (or are about to) implement a Computer Science curriculum from primary school level, with a focus on learning to code. Movement is even finally underway in the New Zealand scene with the Labour Party stating that if they come to power in the 2017 election, they will mandate that coding is taught to all NZ students.

Opponents to the introduction of coding in schools often put forward the argument that not everyone will become programmers once they leave school and therefore there is not a need for coding to be taught in schools. However, the same could be said for learning any particular subject in school. Not all students will become scientists simply because they study Chemistry, not all students will become a poet or novelist because they study English literature. It’s not a question of whether or not learning to code will mean one becomes a programmer or computer scientist. In learning to code, students are taught a different way of thinking; how to break down problems into smaller parts, how to communicate with precision and how to tackle issues in a thoughtful and reasoned manner. These are skills that extend far beyond a single subject and can in fact be applied to any facet of modern life!

Learning to code is also influenced by the maker movement; a harkening back to students given time to ‘play’ and encouraged to invent and create solutions to problems. It is based on constructionist learning theory and Piaget’s mantra of learning by doing. That is, “the active learner is at the centre of the learning process…Makers give it a try; they take things apart; and they try to do things that even the manufacturer did not think of doing” (Libow Martinez and Stager, 2015). How the maker movement connects with learning to code is that it emphasises the processing of problem-solving by stating that there is more than one way to solve a problem. How a problem is solved or how a program is designed (i.e. the ‘algorithm’) is more important than the final product. The idea of integrating coding and making via the medium of physical computing (“using the physical world as an interface to a digital (coded) application” (Wikipedia)) makes, in my opinion, one of the most important learning experiences a student can have in their education.

So how does all of this relate to my teaching practice?

ACG is implementing a coding curriculum from 2016 in Years 1 to 10. At ACG Parnell College, I have been developing courses in Years 7 to 10, which are designed to replace the existing ICT curriculum. At each year level, different languages/approaches to programming will be introduced, as well as a deliberate attempt to integrate hardware (i.e. physical computing) too. In doing so, we will be able to directly marry coding in schools with both the maker movement and its influence of physical computing for all students in our Middle School years. A summary is provided in the table below:

 Year Level Year Implemented Coding Hardware
 Year 7 2016 Graphical programming – Edware Edison robots
 Year 8 2016 Graphical programming – Scratch, App Inventor MaKey MaKey
 Year 9 2017 Procedural/Functional programming – Python CodeBug or Micro:Bit
 Year 10  2017 Procedural/Function programming – Arduino C DIY Arduino robots, electronics and breadboards

 

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