HELLO {digital} WORLD!

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?)

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Photo Credit: nichestitch via Compfight cc

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.

Scratch screenshot

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.

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When to say no to Twitter, in 140 chars or less

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Photo Credit: East Georgia State College via Compfight cc

So despite being a tech-friendly individual, I decided to consider the position of why, as a teacher, I would NOT use Twitter in my classroom. For another opposing view, head over to Amira’s blog. For a pro-Twitter point of view, you can read Fadzai’s blog.

First off, I will start by saying that to emphasize my 6 points, I have made them all 140 characters or less. I figure that if I cannot make a strong enough argument with this restriction, perhaps that will also support my position:

  1. Twitter reinforces bad grammar and spelling habits. They R vital 2 learn, & if Ss R trying to be brief, these skills go out the window.
  2. Face to face time is essential for Ss to learn communication, eye contact/body lang & conflict res. Offline skills impact online skills.
  3. Distractibility & multitasking are on the rise. Many Ss are unable to single task. Teaching singular focus is critical to productivity.
  4. Twitter can be hard to follow. Ss with different learning styles may find it frustrating or difficult.
  5. Some Ss may find Twitter is a popularity contest; focus on likes, retweets and replies. Can create divides, exclusion, or bullying of Ss.
  6. My 14 yo says Twitter (like Facebook) is old news. She doesn’t tweet. She uses Instagram, Snapchat, etc. So why force this tech on Ss?

So there you have it. While I am pro-technology, I am really thinking deeply about what makes a technology both relevant and purposeful. Surely the tech world is changing daily and there are bigger and brighter apps than Twitter on the horizon. If students are not using Twitter themselves anymore, why use it in the classroom?

The tech we introduce in the classroom cannot simply be an app we like, or “the flavour of the month”. This cannot be reason enough to use it. As a teacher, I wonder if there are other apps, or (gasp!) manipulatives, experiments and games that are better suited and engaging for teaching students. So while I started out this assignment as a Twitter supporter playing devil’s advocate, I actually have convinced myself that there are many other resources I prefer over Twitter. As much as I like it personally and professionally, my students’ learning needs must be at the centre of my teaching.

I look forward to reading my classmates’ responses to this blog. If you have any apps, games, experiments, or manipulatives that you wouldn’t teach without, please share them below!

 

 

 

 

Aurasma in the Classroom

My group did a presentation this term on Aurasma, and how to apply it in the classroom. We’ve created a pinterest board called Aurasma in the Classroom which offers lots of ideas for you. Feel free to share, borrow and comment!