coding & history

I have not posted about school in a long time. This isn’t because there hasn’t been stuff to say but rather I thought about separating out my professional life from the blog. Then I did this project with my students and knew that I had to share!

My school has been coding throughout the building in various classrooms since last Fall.  It was a major initiative. Last December, we even synchronized the work throughout the building with a “Hour of Code” project.  It has been both inspiring and challenging tackling this push to code. A history classroom may not seem like the most authentic place to insert coding but interestingly it might just be.  You see in class we are constantly looking at maps to reflect population growth, the spread of epidemics, the movement of troops, and so on and so on. Oftentimes, I find myself projecting a map onto my white board and then drawing over it with the symbols that I need in order to convey some aspect of time to the students. While this works fine, coding has actually allowed us to make our own maps.  Students then are not only learning how to code the program but also learning how best to visualize the data and plot their points for the events we are studying.

At first, the students seemed a bit reluctant but the beauty of coding is that it is instantly gratifying. As students type the code they can immediately see the progress of their work and when they overcome an obstacle in the code they literally cheer.  The energy in the classroom was contagious as students worked in pairs to figure out how to do this or that in the coding language we were using. By the end of our two hour period, each group had a map that they were excited to show their peers. We even brainstormed what kinds of functionality we would like to include in our next mapping project to continue to push the depth and complexity of our coding skills. I am hoping that as the year goes on I can update you with how this is all going. But, I was really really proud of how they all accepted the challenge and demonstrated strong collaboration throughout the mini-project.

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hr of code

Anybody can learn to code is the mantra of Code.org and it became ours on the morning of December 9, 2013. From 9:00AM-10:00AM teachers throughout the school led students through a variety of tutorials and activities that connected their specific course content to coding. Simultaneously, teachers throughout the United States and beyond worked in a similar fashion to highlight not only the significance of coding in today’s world but the practicality (and necessity) of it.

 

While December 9 represented a synchronized effort to coordinate the entire school’s coding experience, it was not the first time Beaver students and teachers implemented code into their classes. Visual Art teacher, David Ingenthron, worked with students in the first term of school on developing their student portfolios. When one student asked if he could incorporate designs he composed using Pencilcode.net, David not only said of course but asked the student to demonstrate his work to the class and help facilitate a lesson that inspired his peers to code and design alongside him. The final products were quite surprising. Here is one example Swirly Thing. Similarly, in Joe Christy’s math class students not only engaged in coding from a math perspective but also coded data that was not exclusive to a “calculus specific” course (i.e. Wiretapping). By allowing coding to live outside of its stereotypical comfort zones of math and science, students at Beaver are able to not only learn the mechanics of a coding language but create and imagine new possibilities for coding.

 

So what did teachers do on December 9 exactly? Many members of the faculty started at the very beginning for their students with questions such as: What is coding? What are some coding languages? Where do we see coding today? Why do people code? Why does Beaver code? These conversations set a context for the hour of code, generated ideas, and provided insights for the teacher on how exactly to implement and differentiate the coding activities that were about to follow. A number of teachers used the tutorials provided by the Khan Academy for the day of coding, including tutorial I and tutorial II for some members of the English Department. Josh Rilla, in the English Department, “Experimented with Codetry.” In Visual Arts, teachers used pencilcode to design line drawings and challenged the students to reflect on incorporating coding into their creative process. In performing arts, teachers used both activities from Khan Academy and Code.org. In the Middle School, Yolanda Wilcox-Gonzalez, Michelle Wildes, and Lindsay Rich turned the hour of code into a day of coding for their combined 8th grade classes.

 

They started the day with introducing the kids to what coding was and had them use the tutorials provided by Khan Academy to begin.  During the next two classes, they provided two challenges, one that was History-English related, and the other related to science. For History/English, students had to code a program that allowed them to create an infographic showing statistical data of the migration of Puerto Ricans and Polish people to the United States from 1879 until 1970.  Students are currently reading West Side Story in English class and they thought giving students an idea about the migration of these two groups into the United States would provide some background knowledge of the experience for each group while also exposing them to practical and authentic coding. For Science, Michelle taught students about ocean organisms and students created codes for programs in which they drew and animated one of the ocean organisms they studied (fish, turtle, whale, shark, sea star, jelly, lobster).  Here are a few examples of student work: Ben – Fish, Ryan – Sea Urchin, Kalala – Immigration.

 

It was clear after my own hour of code that once the students overcame their initial hesitancy around “doing it right” and just dove in, they were willing to play with coding, make mistakes, and rework their understanding, initial goals, and outcomes. The students that started at the very beginning with a simple drawing of a square were proud of their accomplishments and eager to push further into coding and brainstormed excitedly about how they could use coding again. It was an excited morning as students from 6th through 12th grade grappled with coding, created something new, and challenged themselves and their teachers to think critically on how to make coding an authentic and consistent part of everyday.