When I was in grade 7, our Math class had one computer in the corner of the room. It mostly collected dust, but a few times a year the students would have a turn “coding” – going through a progression of instructional cards that would “teach” us how to make the computer do things. BASIC was a good word for it, because it was so directed and specific, it wasn’t even fun! Honestly, it felt like a foreign language. But, I would take my turn, follow the directions, and couldn’t care less when I successfully produced “Hello World” or this one below… (do you get it?)
Once the digital age exploded in the 90’s and 2000’s, I was actually good at coding. In 1995 my employer asked me if I could recreate a job search app using Microsoft Access 2.0 – by copying the database architecture of a similar DOS-based program. Through lots of trial and error, I did it! In later jobs, I continued to be “computer-savvy”, and I eventually learned HTML, CSS and SQL, along with hardware, many more software programs (apps) and networking. People used to ask me how a university degree in Music had led me to be in the IT field, to which I replied that Music is very logical and mathematical. In fact, over 2000 years ago music was known as one of the areas of Science. The fascination with music and its affect on our world is still alive today:
So why do I digress into music, when I started by discussing coding?
I recently read the article This is Why Kids Need to Learn How to Code, and the author concludes that teaching coding develops problem solving, (digital) confidence and understanding the impact any of us can have on the world. I would speculate that developing these skills has always been important, and that they are simply repurposed skills which have evolved into the digital framework that we now need them to function within. The benefits of learning an instrument, which used to be so important in school, is perhaps evolving into coding.
Now, I may get some backlash supporting the continuation of music programs. I absolutely appreciate music and believe that it, like learning an additional language, develops different, important parts of the brain. We do need these subjects in schools. Perhaps a better way to frame my proposal is that the connections between music, languages, science and coding, offer a variety of cross-curricular opportunities that can enhance learning for students.
The benefit of coding is that students love it! There are a variety of apps available that allow for exploratory, differentiated learning that can engage everyone in the classroom. I have used Hour of Code before, so today I played around with Scratch, and found the interface, although complex, has tutorials to help students learn how to navigate the program and their code. At the same time, it is possible to just play around and discover on your own, while building on the skills that you do have.
Staying on my music theme, I started with an alternating drumbeat on counts 1 and 3 for 8 beats. Then I selected Singer1, recorded my voice singing C, D, and E notes, and assigned them to the computer keys 1, 2, and 3. Then I threw in a backup choir singing a G note, a cowbell and if I didn’t have a lawn to mow, I could have kept going! The tutorial was interactive and gave me tips that I needed as I progressed. This definitely would appeal to the creative student, while organically teaching them coding at their own rate.
Although this is a far cry from my first “Hello World” program, much of the logic is the same. Teaching our students to code using programs like these, in whichever capacity engages them, can develop the transferable skills they will need to confidently problem solve in the evolving digital world.