After reading Doug Peterson’s post this morning, which promotes the merits of teaching coding in elementary grades, I was reminded of a powerful interview with Silvia Martinez and Gary Stager, authors of Invent to Learn. Similar to Doug’s message, they speak on the importance of introducing students to learning opportunities that might not presently appear as a discipline in the curriculum.
Gary states that one of the 3 keys roles in education is to “introduce kids to things and ideas that they didn’t know they love yet, to give them exposure to things that they could fall in love with, that they could become great at, that they could use as a source of pleasure and opportunity as they go forth in their lives.”
This is our third year as a 7-12 school, and we continue to look for ways to do this in our elementary/high school community. Last year, as part of the gr. 8 science curriculum, our students spent 3 days in the high school wood shop with the tech teachers during a period that hadn’t been filled due to low enrollment. The high school teachers are happy to facilitate our students as they view it as “good advertising” for their program. This year, the high school tech department has a full gr. 9 tech rotation – in fact all periods are full each semester with various tech classes. We’ll still bring the gr. 8’s into the wood shop this year, but it has to be scheduled during the week of high school exams when the wood shop is empty. A good problem to have to work around.
On the other hand, enrollment was too low for the high school design tech class this year, so it was cancelled. But at the opposite end of the school building, our gr. 8’s are now using CAD (computer-aided design) and 3D printing technology. We’ve invited the high school design teacher into our classroom to see the engagement and interest that is emerging in the building. What impact might this have on his design class enrollment in the next few years?
By the time students reach high school, the opportunities to expose kids to “things they could fall in love with” is limited due to pathway expectations and required credits. If a student has never been in a wood shop, experienced CAD design and its opportunities, would they sign up for those classes? The same applies to computer science and coding – if a student has never experienced coding, and their passion is undiscovered, it makes sense to suggest it’s less likely they’ll register for it in high school. It’s essential our students are introduced to these opportunities before they decide on a particular career path. Leaving these opportunities until high school is too late. We have “closed the barn door after the horse has bolted”.
While I have no experience in coding, I’ve been thinking over the past few years about introducing it to our gr. 8’s using Scratch. Yesterday, during a snow day, I was sharing examples of programs students produced using Scratch with our French teacher – programs written by gr. 7 students. We soon began to answer our own questions regarding the why, how and where it could be used across the gr. 8 curriculum. And similar to what I knew about 3D printers when the one I ordered arrived at our classroom door (very little), my knowledge on Scratch is Limited. But as Silvia comments in the video, “Don’t wait for the pre-packaged curriculum. Be the architect of change in the classroom. How to start? Just start.” Once we get started, similar to our learning in 3D printing, I’ll be happy to take a seat beside my students as we learn together.
Towards the end of the interview (9:25 to be exact), Gary states that “education needs to redefine success and scale”. He shares his personal experience of learning to program. Twelve-year-old Gary felt “powerful, sophisticated, smart, creative for the first time in my life”, and “developed habits of mind – the ability to put myself in different perspectives to solve problems that serves me everyday of my life.” The WHY.
Gary acknowledges there might be those in the future who comment, “Remember that time we made things with computers? It didn’t raise test scores…..” His response refers back to the need to redefine student success and scale. “But if we wake up every morning, and we ask ourselves, how do we make this the best 7 hours of a kid’s life? And we now have wondrous materials to make this closer to being a reality…then we haven’t failed in our efforts. We are succeeding all the time.”
Learn more about Gary and Silvia’s work at Constructing Modern Knowledge.