An Ode to Code

Before this year I had no understanding of coding. I knew that programmers wrote code to make websites run and function properly but I didn’t understand the way it worked and I had no appreciation for the intricacies and complexity of coding. That all changed this year though.  My sister is studying Creative Technologies at the University and so I have got to watch her create all kinds of interesting things using code. It literally is like learning another language and there are lots of little rules to know. You can write lines and lines of code and if you have just one misplaced semicolon or space the entire thing fails to run. For one of her projects she created a record player that plays music when you click it, a clip of it can be found here.  The code she works with is long and makes little to no sense to me and so when I heard we had to code this week I was a little nervous.

I decided to try the One Hour of Code on because it seemed like the most fun, more like playing a game than actually doing programming. I decided to try doing the Classic Maze option because I loved doing mazes as a kid and figured it would be fun to try. I was expecting the coding to be incredibly easy but I was actually surprised by how much it made me think. It wasn’t necessarily difficult to build the code strands to make a little character navigate the maze but it forced me to think differently than I normally do.  I took a few videos of my attempts at coding, using Screencastify, to demonstrate how the program worked and to show my struggles with coding.

Classic Maze #4: Early attempt at coding.

Classic Maze #20: By the time you get to this point in the little game it gives you tips and tricks for simplifying the code. At this point, I was really glad that they had presented the code as blocks instead of just senseless lines of code because placing commands within other strings of codes would have been confusing.

While I found this to be a fun experience, when I was doing it I kept thinking “Yeah this is fun and good practice problem solving but what really is the value of teaching it in schools?” Unless students plan on pursuing a future in computer science or graphic design I didn’t really see the value in teaching it in schools, except to develop digital literacy. But of all the things teachers are asked to teach students is that really a high priority in comparison to getting them to read and write?

So after doing my hour of coding, I looked up articles about the value of coding in the classroom. I found this awesome article that broadened my understanding of why coding is important in classrooms. I especially appreciated the point it raised about coding creating inclusion for those students who may be gifted in areas that are not normally acknowledged by traditional schooling methods. The article talks about how programs that offer coding allow students with ASD to see themselves as successful in the classroom and the impact these classes can have on these students’ futures. By training in software development courses students with ASD are given the chance to hone skills that will open doors for future employment in an increasingly digital world.

I also follow Brian Aspinall on Twitter and he is a huge advocate for the use of coding in the classroom. He created this infographic about the benefits of coding in the classroom:

I think that coding can teach students valuable problem solving and thinking skills but we need to make sure that we don’t simply teach our students to apply these skills to work with computers. The focus needs to be less on learning the skills to code a computer and more on how those thinking skills can be applied to larger real world problems.

via Brian Aspinall’s Twitter