If you are like most teachers across the NAD, you have just started the work of preparing your classroom for the new school year. As you report for duty, you may have started thinking about how you can add something new and exciting to your curriculum. I would like to suggest that you look into teaching some basic programing or coding in your school. You might say “I barely know how to turn the computers on in my classroom. Learning code is very difficult.” Luckily, Apple & Google have come up with some great tools that teach coding in a fun way
Last year, I played with Apple’s Swift Playground. This is a great program for learning the basics of the Swift Programming language. It was fun to explore If/Then Statements and to understand how a computer program is built. Now I am still not an expert when it comes to coding, but I can read some of the complex code that I find on web pages and in database queries with an understanding for what is happening.
At the beginning of the summer I was introduced to Google’s CS First curriculum at a free tech conference put on by EdTechTeam (I would highly recommend that you consider attending one if they are free in your state). One of the sessions was on introducing coding into the classroom. The presenter personally teaches grades 2-8 coding with Google CS First. It is built into her computer classes a couple days a week. She emphasized the fact that she was not a computer science major, just a teacher that loves technology and she had taken no programming classes in high school or college. CS First was designed to empower every teacher to teach a computer science course no matter their background. She stated that much like her students she was still learning. The fact that the curriculum is free for any number of students and Google will send you the entire curriculum for any of the activities you would like to try to take on makes it easy to give it a go.
Students learn through watching video tutorials and then they apply what they have learned through block-based coding in Scratch. Scratch was created by MIT to start students coding from ages 8-16. It was created to be a gateway programming language that would give students the basics. The coding language only uses about 100 commands that can be snapped together visually to create just about anything. Students learn the fundamentals of more advanced languages. If you or your students get stuck, there is a community of people online who are happy to help and give students feedback.
Coding is great for teaching high order thinking skills. This is what STEM and STEAM are all about. The skills of problem solving and collaboration are key skills we need to help our students develop as they are key skills employers of the future are requesting. But most important is a sense of accomplishment one can get from sticking with a problem and finding the answer.
So what do you need to get started? An internet connection and a few computers, iPads or Chromebooks. From there go to Google’s CSFirst website and sign up. Click the blue “Get Started” button and click on teacher.
From there create a class and invite students. You can assign specific 1 hour activities if you want to get started right away. All the resources you will need will be available online or if you choose a multi day activity you will be given the option of printing out the materials.
Even better, Google will send you a kit complete with stickers and certificates. The kit includes an Educator starter guide, Stickers, Student certificates (50) and a Shout Out poster (see below).
Kits can take up to three weeks to reach you but usually arrive via FedEx in about a week. They are worth it for the unique stickers.
If you are interested in offering something new this year for your parents and students to get excited about or you are trying to combat the idea that a Christian education can’t compete with what the public school is offering, this might be one way to up your game this school year. If nothing else, your students will learn some new skills and who knows where that might take them? They–and you–might even get bitten by the coding bug.
~Thomas Reynolds, STEM Department Chair, Thunderbird Adventist Academy