Coding, computer programming and computer science are being discussed as possible curriculum topics, pedagogical tools and integration contexts within our elementary schools. I understand, however, that some teachers may feel a certain level of concern, worry or even anxiety when it comes to learning and teaching within this area.
How are educators expected to teach coding with little to no experience? How can they develop and implement lessons without adequate formal instruction in the subject area?
While these questions are valid, I challenge teachers to see the novelty of coding as a valuable professional and personal opportunity.
As teachers, we often seek to construct students’ knowledge of a given topic. Our lesson plans, unit plans and semester/yearly plans start with simple concepts and ideas which are then built upon in a systematic and carefully timed progression of ideas using pedagogical techniques such as scaffolding and inquiry-based projects. This is what makes us professionals.
A potential problem to this approach, however, is that the knowledge and skills we are imparting on our students are new to them, but are not new to us.
We are developing and implementing a plan for the construction of knowledge
and skills that we constructed for ourselves, a very long time ago.
While this has many advantages (we are familiar with the material, we have a big picture perspective, we can see the end result, etc.), there are also some potential drawbacks. Teachers may be unaware or may have forgotten some of the steps, insights and lesson details that could prove important for the new learner. They may also be unaware of the social and emotional challenges faced by their students when learning new topics.
As a result of the teacher’s in depth and long established knowledge-base within
their areas of expertise, they may lack the ability to empathize with new learners.
As teachers learn about the integration of coding, and as they begin to develop their own lessons, what we may find is that teachers are more empathetic to new learners. It is my hope (and belief) that the lessons and instructional methods developed by teachers who are new to coding will be infused with authentic and valuable pedagogical techniques that demonstrate a genuine understanding of the learning needs of their students.
Teachers will have had recent experience learning the topic themselves and will therefore be able to foresee potential barriers that may be faced by their students (whether they be academic, social or emotional). Teachers may also be more closely tied to meta-cognitive practices: It will be easy to “think about thinking” if teachers were recently forced to solve problems for themselves in the same context as their students.
In essence, our coding teacher NOOBS will be empathetic, co-learners
who share and understand the learning experiences of their students.
I would encourage teachers to learn as much as they can about coding, computer programming and computer science and to be one or two steps ahead of their students. This will provide teachers with the ability to answer questions that arise within their lessons and more importantly, decide whether or not the questions being asked necessitate a response, or perhaps need to be solved by the student.
But I would also encourage teachers to embrace the challenge and to
see their inexperience with coding as a potential asset!
An understanding and supportive teacher is one of the most important factors in the achievement and success of our students. As co-learners, teachers may discover valuable insights into their own students’ minds, hearts and egos and will be quite amazed at the patience and understanding that will develop within their collaborative classroom.