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Posts Tagged ‘coding

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I wondered why “coding” has been so aggressively pursued and marketed to young children. Now I know.

Coding is neither language or mathematics. It is not quite both, but a form of complex thinking that requires and develops both the language and logic centres of the brain. The earlier the start of this sort of thinking, the better capacity that develops.

This timely tweet reminded me to ask some questions.

Other than “learning styles”, are career guidance programmes here going to keep wasting taxpayer money on Myers-Briggs tests for students and the same training for teachers?

Are people who claim to be edtech, change, or thought leaders still going to talk about “21st century competencies” and “disruption” this decade?

Might people keep confusing “computational thinking” or “authoring with HTML” with “coding”?

Will administrators and policymakers lie low in the protection and regulation of the privacy and data rights of students?

Are vendors going to keep using “personalised learning” and “analytics” as catch-all terms to confuse and convince administrators and policymakers?

Are sellers of “interactive” white boards still going to sell these white elephants?

Are proponents of clickers going to keep promoting their use as innovative pedagogy instead of actually facilitating active learning experiences?

I borrow from the tweet and say: Please don’t. I extend this call by pointing out that if these stakeholders do not change tact, they will do more harm than good to learners in the long run.

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This was an episode that would make a novice coder happy because it provided practice.

It did not apply to ame because I was merely getting some basics and keeping myself up to date for a course I facilitate.

In this episode, the host led a session on how to code for a movie recommendation system. To do this, he revisited concepts like pooling large datasets, getting personalised ratings, and implementing collaborative filtering. In doing so, this host suggested solutions for incomplete data, cold starts, and poor filtering.

The next episode promises to provide insights on how search engines make recommendations.

Coding, however it is defined and implemented, will be taught at primary and secondary schools.

Whatever is taught, I hope that students will not learn the WHAT and HOW without knowing WHY of coding. If they need ideas or inspiration, they might watch this YouTube video.

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This group of dancers aged 11 to 13 code not just for an app or STEM. They code for artistic expression. They code to pursue a passion. They code to move people.

By some coincidence, I watched this video of Itzhak Perlman who was offering master classes online.

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Perlman said he would ask his students: Is there a difference between being intense and being passionate?

Our coding curriculum might be rigorous or even intense. But will it also be passionate? By this I ask if it will give learners ownership and nurture empathy.

Intensity is something we can subject students to. Introducing another possibly siloed subject into their lives will make learning intense even if we try to sell it as fun or forward-looking. We should not dance around this issue.

Passion is something we help students discover and develop. Nurturing passion starts with helping students identify with needs, both theirs and others. This opens the path to empathy. Students then take the responsibility to problem seek and problem solve.

If we rely on intensity, we will have to keep pushing students to learn. If we start with passion, students will push themselves to their own ends.

When I read that coding is “compulsory for all upper primary pupils next year”, I had questions. I was not the only one.

I had more basic questions.

Furthermore, how do policymakers and implementers distinguish coding from authoring and computational thinking? How might computational thinking be integrated into current subjects instead of being an “enrichment”?

A few months ago, Google announced Project Bloks, a hardware platform “for kids (and curious) adults to learn the principles of code”.

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A few days ago, Glico, makers of Pocky, announced Glicode, a platform that “that gets kids coding by having them arrange actual cookies and snacks, then snapping a photo to translate them into digital command”.

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Unlike the blocks, kids can eat their Pocky coding creations and mistakes.

The efforts are admirable since they appeal to the touch and taste of kids. However, a critical question remains, and it applies to any creative efforts at introductory coding or even computational thinking (if you do not know the difference between the two, read this).

Are the kids following recipes or are they making their own?

The teaching response is: The kids must be taught the basics and the “right” way to think and code.

The learning responses are questions: Why do I need to learn this? What problem is there to solve? What can I make? Why am I doing this again?

We need both approaches. The teaching response is organised, efficient, and the go-to method. The learning response is often messy, ignored, or forgotten. We do too much of the former and too little of the latter.

The tweet that linked to this article on “coding” enrichment asked the wrong question: Should parents be adding coding classes to their children’s already-packed schedules?

The better questions that any well-informed educator and parent might ask are:

  • After investigating: How is this “coding”?
  • How is this different from other enrichment sold here?
  • Does enrichment mean “good to have” but not “must have”?
  • Does this “coding” focus on the more important “computational thinking”?
  • Can computational thinking be taught and learnt in other ways? What are these ways?
  • Why is “coding” still a separate domain instead of integrated into interdisciplinary learning?
  • How is this preparing a child for future if the designs are based on backward models and not sustained?

Have you processed the critical discourse on “coding”? For example:

If you do not see the point of the questions or critical discourse, I have something you need to buy.

This news article called coding a “new language”. Linguists would disagree because they do not take the definition of language as lightly as journalists. For that matter, ask those in the fields of coding, computer science, and computational thinking and they might provide different perspectives as well.

When the latter group of people are not consulted, almost anything counts as “coding”. When that happens, the only ones who really benefit are vendors who pull the wool over the eyes of parents.

Take one example from the news article:

The course spans four sessions and costs about S$300 according to Mr Koh, who said he hoped his son would gain “exposure and self-achievement” from the class.

“It would be some use to him in the future, hopefully,” he said, adding that he views coding as a “life skill”.

How exactly will learning how to “code” now help him in the future? The same way all other just-in-case instruction helps in the future? What teacher-led lessons do you remember from when you were in Primary 3 (the age of the boy)? Why does “coding” not have any utility now?

There is wool over the eyes and there is wooly thinking. Here is another quote from a different parent:

Technology is starting to become “part and parcel” of our everyday lives, and while it used to be just those in the workforce and tertiary institutions who had to contend with it, the age “has gone down even earlier”. “My son, who just entered Primary 1, already has to do his homework online,” she said.

First, unless you live under a rock on a remote island (perhaps when Singapore was still a small fishing village), technology is already part and parcel of our everyday lives. It is not becoming.

Second, having to do homework online is not a good reason for “coding” enrichment. Unless the homework was actually about coding. At the Primary 1 level.

I am not against coding or computational thinking. I am against news articles that are serve as ad-ticles (advertisements for vendors that are disguised as newsworthy articles).

My guess is that someone wanted to push the coding agenda forward but decided to lead with a human interest story. If you read the responses of the parents that the journalist chose to highlight, you will realise that the parents are going in blind and vendors are taking advantage of this.

Despite all this, the kids stand to benefit because a curriculum not constrained by tests or legacy processes will feel like a breath of fresh air. They will get to explore, create, and make mistakes. Hopefully.

But let us not kid ourselves into thinking it will help with their homework now or that it has something to do with an undefined future.

Decode ad-ticles and vendor-speak. Find out how it helps kids now and seek evidence of learning. Do this not because you paid good money for the experience. Do this because you want to educate your child, not school him/her.

Let us imagine that you are an adult learner who wants to keep learning, but are not looking for academic qualifications. What do you do?

If you go with most agencies, they will likely offer you courses or modules. These might lead up to something or they might be self-contained. But they are still not designed with you in mind because there are desired outcomes, learning objectives, and curricula determined by someone else.

What are you looking for does not quite exist in the schooling and vendor realms. Instead what you need is designed with two main principles: Just-in-time (JIT) and just-for-me (JFE).

What you need is experiences. An extended vacation might do the trick if you travel light and learn on the run. If you stay in a place where the residents do not speak your native tongue, then you might pick up a new language.

But that is not the bi- or multilingualism I am thinking most people need to experience.

I see the wisdom of thought leaders who suggest that kids be comfortable in one or more programming language. That is something a school or vendor can help provide. A very motivated individual can also learn this on his or her own thanks to the multitude of books and online resources on programming.

Without this language, most individuals can problem-seek. But armed with the ability to program well, individuals have one more tool with which to problem-solve.

The older adult learner is unlikely to want or need programming language skills. So what experiences might they invest in?

I suggest being fluent in the daily language of operating systems. The dominant ones are Windows and Mac OS on larger screens, and Android and iOS on smaller screens. We might throw Chrome OS on both screens for good measure.

Being conversant in more than one operating system language can help older learners problem-seek and problem-solve on any major computing platform.

If you need to book that vacation, can you do the research, take notes, seek advice, book a cheap flight, and get the ideal Airbnb place on desktop and mobile devices? Do you know the merits or demerits on each platform?

Now imagine having to offer your services or wishing to stay relevant to clients who are likely on different platforms. You might create an online presence on one platform, but does it look the way you want it to on another? You can only know for sure if you are comfortable, or better still, fluent in all major OS languages.

This is why I have no qualms about investing in various devices with different operating systems. They create learning opportunities just-for-me and just-in-time.

When articles run on techie sites or blogs about devices running a particular operating system, there will invariably be a comment war where one side slimes the other. This is as pointless as arguing whether one language is better than another.

The more you learn, the more you realize how they are more the same than different. Then the fights seem small-minded and petty.


Welcome home, brother! by vynsane, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  vynsane 

STEM, STEAM, coding, maker spaces. If you are an educator, you should be well acquainted with these buzz words.

There is nothing like a good story to make these real. The YouTube video embedded below is a wonderful example of making and coding with LEGO so that kids with physical disabilities have modular artificial limbs.

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All making and coding needs context. If they do not, they will be as empty as current deliver-and-test curricula. So what better context than creating artificial limbs for kids that they can co-design and actually enjoy?

In showing care in context, such projects might also create sustainability. Such limbs must literally grow with the kids, and for some, might grow on them. A few might be inspired enough to also make and code.

So by all means promote coding and making, but do not lose sight of context. That context does not just provide opportunity for authentic problem finding and solving, it might also show care for others and sustain coding and making for the long run.


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