Teaching kids to code is seen as the 'new black' in education. Over the last couple of years it has gained support and is now a curriculum priority in Australia with the release of the Technologies Curriculum. Resources, educational products, research and training continue to harp on about how important it is to teach kids to code. It is going to set them up for the jobs of the future...whatever they are..
The reality is that coding is NOT the new black. It's more the new blue...collar, that is. Read on to find out why.
Straight from the horse's mouth
During his keynote, Taj made a point that really resonated with me. Teaching kids to code is not preparing them for the future. Thirty years ago, the ability to send an email or even use Microsoft Office was the bar educational institutions aimed for when preparing their students for the future jobs market. These days, those skills are the norm and are just expected in the workforce across a broad spectrum of industries. The ability to code is not going to open doors for our students in the future - because everyone will be able to do it!
What made Mark Zukerberg a success (or even Taj Pabari), wasn't their ability to program a computer - it was their ability to innovate and create new ideas and that is what we need to foster in our learners.
The new economy is here!
In the future, any job that can be replaced by automation will be. Filling heads with knowledge that can be found on Google is a waste of time in the classroom. The new economy is one of innovation! Strong communication skills, the ability to collaborate, emotional intelligence, digital literacy and most importantly creativity are the currency we need our students to be trading in. The Word Economic forum highlighted the growing importance of creativity in its Future Jobs Report, with creativity coming third to Complex Problem Solving and Critical Thinking. We can only guess as to what skills will be prioritised in the coming years, let alone what will be important by the time our students in Kindergarten graduate.
Coding isn't all bad!
I love teaching kids to code and what's more I think it is immensely valuable for them to learn. I am in no way saying that we should take a step back from teaching coding in our schools. In fact, we need more schools jumping on board early on. Just as it is with learning a second language, learning to code and think computationally is best developed in the early years of education. Computational thinking has benefits for students across the curriculum. The ability to decompose a problem or think in a more abstract way can assist students to understand more deeply, plan and develop solutions. Coding is a vehicle for teaching complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity - all identified as important skills for the future.
So by all means, jump on the coding bandwagon, but don't turn it into a unicorn. It's a good skill for our students to have in their 21st Century arsenal but it is not the only skill they should have.
In Australia, the ICT Capabilities were released prior to the Digital Technologies curriculum. Many teachers are confused by the purpose of the Digital Technologies subject area and how it differs to the ICT Capabilities. In this blog entry, I will discuss the aims of both and what makes them different.
The ICT Capabilities
Some content descriptors explicitly identify the inclusion of technology as essential, as can be seen in the Year 2 English example below. Other content descriptors identify the role of ICT as a potential way to enrich the content descriptor. An example of this is the example from Year 5 Science. Additionally, ICT presents a natural partner in the collection and representation of data in Mathematics. An example of this is also pictured below.
The Digital Technologies
Digital Technologies is the natural home for the ICT Capability BUT it is important to understand that the content area deals with the deeper concepts of technology. The ICT Capabilities are about using and working with technology, while the Digital Technologies is about understanding technology and developing a particular way of thinking.
The common misconception is that the Digital Technologies curriculum replaces the need for teachers to try and integrate technology into their classrooms. I would argue that it in fact will drive the role of technology in the classroom to new heights as our students become increasingly skilled and knowledgeable.
The Digital Technologies Hub is a fantastic resource for teachers getting started with the Digital Technologies subject. They have produced an excellent poster (shown below), which you can download here. It provides a clear comparison of the ICT Capabilities and the Digital Technologies subject area.
The content descriptor being addressed is:
Examine the main components of common digital systems and how they may connect together to form networks to transmit data.
The elaborations provide the following information:
While the elaborations do break this down a lot more, it is still very open to interpretation. Getting Year 5 students to describe the process in Laymen's Terms didn't seem ambitious enough. Why not dive a little deeper? It seems reasonable to at least mention it........right?
Sometimes teaching is like performing a dance...
The fact is that not all concepts are the most engaging or to easy to communicate. It can be a little like performing a complex dance in front of a panel of hyper-critical adjudicators. Stumble...and you lose them. Dazzle them...and they won't take their eyes off you. The difference here was that instead of performing a dance I was trying to explain a very abstract concept in a simple way.
And so it began....I opened by stretching out the acronym, sashayed into examples of common letters and symbols, pirouetted around the involvement of the CPU, pliéed into the role of binary before ending with a bow and an example of data transfer in pixel maps.
At this point I luckily had some "ah-ha" moments in the audience because it connected with our previous data transference lesson.
I took a breath.....not a total flop.
Having some fun with it: ASCII to Binary Chinese Whispers
The keyboard decided on a letter which they sent to the CPU in ASCII. The CPU used an ASCII to Binary converter to produce a Binary Code which they then passed to the Software. The software created a pixel map of the letter before passing it to the monitor to hold up for the keyboard to confirm on the other side of the classroom with a thumbs up.
After the first round, it became a little bit competitive and the teams wanted to then race each other. It turned out to be a good brain break and provided the children with a more physical representation of the process.
What do you think? Should kids in Primary School be learning about ASCII? How deep do we go? Leave me a comment! I'd love to hear what others think.
Read all about my thoughts on teaching in the 21st Century, my experiences with technology in the classroom, running a Maker Space, launching STEAM and Design Thinking with students, coding, robotics and much more!
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