To code or not to code, that is the question

scratchEverything I have been reading lately claims we need to add programming, or coding as many like to call it, classes into the k12 curriculum. Being the computer technology teacher, and all around geek, I love this idea. But having been around the educational block a few times, I am skeptical to many of the trends in education. I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth a few times since I started my career.

I have given this claim some serious consideration and have tried to do my homework on the subject. I am convinced that coding is essential to the future of our students. No, I don’t believe that all of them will be come programmers. Maybe only a few will go on to become a professional programmer. But think about it, the jobs the next generation will be applying for will require them to program something. As technology becomes more and more a part of every part of our life, it requires someone to make it work. Also, coding teaches great project management skills.

I have incorporated a small coding unit into my computer technology classes for grades 7 and 8. What I have found is that students learn to break large projects apart to manageable tasks. Students learn to divide and conquer by working on different tasks and putting everyone on the team’s work together to complete a project. I have also found that students enjoy making something move or talk all by itself without being controlled.

One application I used to teach this coding unit was Scratch. I used a couple of lessons found on the Scratched website. This allowed students to become familiar with the application and to see what Scratch could do. I then walked students through the making of Pong. You read that correctly, we made Pong. I can remember playing this as a child. The students LOVED making a video game from scratch. (Pun intended.) I must admit, I cheated and learned how to make the game using the YouTube video below. But as a teacher, I use whatever I can to best prepare for my lessons.

I had hoped students would enjoy making the game, which they did. Student misbehavior was down during this unit. But what I didn’t expect was to have students going home and making their own games using Scratch. One student in particular, who did not complete any assignments in my class except the assignments for the coding unit, fell in love with Scratch. He went on the make his own program where he had cars that drove around a city. It was very complex.  This student had behavior issues and was in a special education class. For this boy, Scratch opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It leveled the playing field for him.

That is what coding does. I plan to do more coding next year using Scratch. Give it a try.