After several months, we have finally come to the end of this series. Number 10 is also a perfect one to end on. It’s platform efficiency, but what does that actually mean? I think it speaks to the entire experience a student has with the coding curriculum in school.
Do students get the experience of using block, text, and physical components? Is there a clear pathway? Do they get to experience multiple text languages? Are student skills actually building? All of those questions can be part of a curriculum’s efficiency, and it also speaks to the broader problem of the field because most curriculums are not very efficient.
As you look out on the field of coding curricula out there you see many that are either focused on one grade band or one coding language. Adding those physical components is also incredibly scattered as you either have to use that hardware proprietary software or the experience can be limited. Coding is a complex topic and most providers just don’t have the time and the resources to make more. It becomes a question of just focusing on what you are good at.
These one-note providers and components then put schools in a bind from top to bottom. At the school and district level, it means that you have to purchase and manage multiple resources which isn’t realistic in a topic area that isn’t required. It also makes it tougher for teachers who aren’t natural programmers to get involved as the more things you have the more complex it is. Teachers also have more difficulty giving students a broad coding experience because they are having to pick and choose from all of the things that are out there and are limited by the resources they know.
For students, having lots of different platforms can provide for a disjointed experience. They don’t have that continuous pathway that allows them to improve, and they spend more time learning new platforms than actually coding. They also can have a tougher time free coding on their own time because they don’t know where to go.
What if there was a better way? What if there was a platform that had multiple languages and even included coding physical devices? What if that platform was built on skills? I am here to tell you that this platform does exist, and that efficiency is what makes it really stand out.
It is such a weird time in education. Educators are under fire in the culture war that is permeating our country. Every day, you see it in the weird laws that lawmakers are coming up with that ban specific topics, require lesson plans to be turned in incredibly early, and dictate the way we talk about history, culture, and race. All while we see an unprecedented historical event in the heart of Europe with Ukraine.
I know for me, the question becomes how do we talk about this? As kids get older, the questions about the situation in Ukraine intensify and become more profound. As a teacher, can we even talk about it, though? With things like World War and Nuclear Weapons in the conversation, I think even adults have questions, so how do we parse this out to students and help them learn from the situation. How do we help them understand the conflict at a depth where they can make the right decisions if they are in charge in 10, 20, 30 years? How do we get there without setting off a political firestorm?
I think the answer is to tell them the truth. To start, you have to reassure students that World War and Nuclear War are unlikely no matter what public rhetoric is said. It’s a great way to turn back to history and talk about the Cold War and how we were on the brink multiple times. In that time, leaders realized they were risking mutually assured destruction, which is likely the thought now. It’s one of the main reasons you see NATO not getting involved in a military sense.
The war is also an opportunity to late out the correct events of history and let students see both sides. While it’s easy to establish a villain in the current situation in Ukraine, you also set a better understanding of history by learning and thinking through Russian intentions. If you can see their side, you can see the why, and if you can see the why our future leaders may be able to head that off at the pass in the future.
It gets to the heart of what history should be. It should be a retelling of history while looking at both sides. Students should see the messy and the terrible. If we only teach the positive in history, we miss almost all of that.
I also don’t think taking this approach messes with establishing patriotism in our children. You have to make history appropriate at the student's level, and young children can still start with heroes and loving the American flag. Then as they get older, you transition it into an appreciation of American survival no matter how messy extreme things got.
This war in Ukraine is ugly and horrible, and it’s not something we as history teachers can stay away from, though. We just need to talk about it in the right way, and hopefully, we can use it as a proof point that educators can talk about hard things.
Curriculum approach is an interesting piece when you look at what you need in a coding curriculum. It basically comes down to the way that a curriculum platform teaches coding. It needs to be engaging, interactive, and really catch the attention of students, and there a couple of very clear ways to do that.
It starts with the ways you teach students, and do those ways translate from both a block format to also being in text formats. There are really two ways that make sense to approach this. The first is with puzzles. These are where you are putting blocks together to move a character to a goal. While most block programs have these, I think what you will find is that many of the text coding platforms will get away from these even they are great to get students started with basic concepts. I think looking for these and the engagement that comes with them is always important,
The other activity that you will see in platforms projects. These are the creative output that comes with coding, and really the key with them is how platforms progress students to create better projects. Are there tutorials to get them started? Do those tutorials start simply and then gradually add more skills? It’s always something to consider.
I think when you look at the curriculum approach you have to also look at goals. What is the platform leading students to create? Are they trying to build games, animation, or stories? Are they coding to show what they know in CORE classes? The better ones that are out there take things that kids are interested in and they drive learning with them.
Really, the key is how the platform peaks a student’s interest and keeps it. If see something like lots of video tutorials it’s probably not great. If you see engaging interactives that you know will keep kids in, you should latch on to it.
Let’s get back to looking at things to ask about a coding curriculum. We have been doing conference preview blogs since February is such a heavy conference season, but as we move into March that schedule slows down and this series will be the focus of the blog for the next couple of weeks.
This week we focus on a massive factor when it comes to a coding curriculum. It also applies to coding hardware and tools. It’s all about ease of entry. Can someone start that coding curriculum, hardware, or tool easily? As we expand out to teachers who have not taught coding before, this might be the most important question, and really that ease of entry should be there for both teachers and students.
What does this mean for teachers? It can start with having a platform that is a familiar format. If you model it after an LMS that familiar format is there. They can start with building a class and assigning lessons, and they can choose lessons from a pre-determined bunch. It takes out the guesswork. You can then add in a host of teacher resources that allow someone who has never taught coding to feel comfortable. This ease of use has to be there since we don’t have enough programmers who want to go into the classroom. We have to be able to depend on others.
Ease of use also matters on the student side. It all starts with their dashboard. Can they get into the classroom easily? Are assignments easy to find? Once that is there, can students easily move to creation? You don’t want the dashboard and the experience to get in the way, but you want to have a dashboard that gives them things like tutorials to easily progress.
The ease of use factor also comes into play as you look at coding hardware. A great example is the category of microcomputers. There are a ton of them out there but many of them require a lot of training for both teachers and students to get started. They may be powerful, but if you can’t unlock that power there is really no point. It’s why micro:bit is such a great starting point. It allows any student who can read to get started with block coding to build almost anything.
The best tools are those ones that combine this ease of use with an incredibly high ceiling. When you find those, you find magic.
Two conferences in one week! What can be better? This year I am taking advantage of Ohio’s move to virtual and I will be part of OETC the week of February 14th-18th. It’s a great Valentine's Day surprise. OETC is one I have never done, and hopefully I can go next year in person.
My Sessions at OETC
Another one of my favorite conferences is coming up! It’s IDEA in Illinois which was formerly ICE. This is a conference that is almost a second home to me as one of my first friends in Ed Tech calls this home and several of my other friends have come to this one over the years. It’s a hybrid one this year, so I have both an in-person session and a virtual one. They include:
Everything's bigger in Texas right? Well, their Ed Tecch conference is no exception. TCEA is around the corner, and it’s always one of the biggest and best conferences out there. They bring in a multitude of national level presenters and the great local ones are bountiful too. I have the privilege of being part one again, and I am delivering 6 sessions that I would love to see my Texas friends at!
Those 6 sessions are
As you look at coding tools, you need to look for diversity and inclusion. It needs to match both the student and the student's level of learning. Students need to be able to see themselves in the characters and stories that they can tell. It also needs to have the tools necessary to adapt to any learning challenge a student might have. Let’s look at how you might be able to get there.
The first thing to look at is the diversity of characters. Many coding platforms will go with characters that don’t have genders or skin tones to avoid this, but if you can find one that leans into diversity, it should stand out a bit more. Look for one that has a variety of skin tones, various genders, non-gendered characters, and even the ability for students to make characters look like themselves. It’s always fun to code with real people, and it gives you the option to use coding in specific school content. Just make sure you do it with characters that bring out the best in all students.
As we look at diversity and inclusion, you also have to look at how you can make learning work for every student. You have to be able to personalize student interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Just imagine that one student may be a bit ahead of the others. How do you teach to that?
To personalize their coding content, I would look for two things in a coding platform: personalized assignments and the ceiling. The first is easy. Can you assign different content to different students in the same class? Look for things like the ability to assign a Python project to one student in a class while the others get a block project. That will tell you about personalization quickly.
The ceiling is also so important. How many different things can kids create, and in how many other formats? Having a low ceiling means the options for students who need a more personalized approach are minimal. Having a high ceiling makes that personalized approach limitless as you can tweak content for the student, and they can create what fits them.
Looking at inclusion can also mean other tools. Can the coding resource use another language like Spanish? Does it have a voiceover? If it doesn’t, can you add it? Anything that a student needs to engage at their level should be able to be there.
In conclusion, diversity and inclusivity comes down to how things are presented and can you make every student feel welcome. While coding tools are still progressing to this goal, you can still make it a point to look for diversity and inclusion needs. Students deserve it!
Can this week go by faster? It’s that time of year again to go to my FAVORITE conference, and I can’t wait to get there. FETC is coming soon!
I love FETC because it’s a great conference, but it’s also the place where I am most likely to get to hang out with my Ed Tech friends. Over the years Florida has been like a second home to me, and I deeply missed this conference last year.
This conference is just pure fun, but it also is one of my favorites content-wise. FETC does an amazing job every year of bringing an awesome mix of both national level, next level, and local presenters to the conference. You can get all kinds of perspectives. I think the best thing is that you get really good presenters who are trying to make their name and want to give the most thoughtful learning experience.
I was a little nervous about getting into FETC but I have three full sessions including 2 workshops! They include:
I have neglected to write the “COVID” post for months because I wasn’t on the frontlines in the classroom. I work from home, so most days, I am safe in the cocoon of my home office. I am not day in and day out instituting Covid protocols. I am not telling kids to “wash their hands” or “pull up their masks.” I do not have to navigate virtual learning because Omicron has spread so rapidly. I also did not want to wade into the politics in this blog, but I think it’s time to. I think it’s time we find that happy medium that we have been missing. Let me lay out what I mean.
Before I get started, though, let’s get one thing very clear. I genuinely believe you need to protect yourself and your family in the way you see fit. If you live with someone immunocompromised, elderly, or more susceptible, this post doesn’t apply to you. You need to do everything possible to make sure those folks are okay physically and mentally. Who cares what everyone else says, and protecting your loved ones is paramount.
This post applies to everyone else. I think I have come to a place where there is a happy medium we will have to live with, and we need to start moving that way. COVID isn’t going anywhere. It’s here to stay, and we have to find that line we can live with it which means don’t be too far to either side.
Let’s start with what seems like the simplest way to protect ourselves, and it’s the vaccine. I know that taking the vaccine is a personal choice, but I know for my family and me, all the data points to it being effective (no vaccine is 100%) and safe. Data from multiple hospitals proves that it limits the likely hood you can become infected, and if you do, it dramatically limits the symptoms. I would think most teachers would believe this data (it’s in our nature to believe science), but I know some don’t. I also think most teachers are looking for any way to protect themselves because they know things spread easily in schools and don’t want students bringing it home to people who are more likely to have severe complications. If you are one of those that don’t believe in the vaccine, I have to ask you for a straightforward thing.
Make that choice personal, not verbal. It pushes you more to that happy medium because you aren’t trying others to make a choice that they could possibly regret. How we vaccinate and who we vaccinate can be that personal choice, but we don’t have to hate others who believe something different. As someone who is vaccinated, I also think we need to stop pressure campaigns. We are to a point where those that aren’t are dug in, and constant peer pressure won’t help. It still needs to be that personal choice.
With everything else, I think the key is that happy medium. Both us as individuals and schools need to be smart but not strict. For example, kids who can go to school can go without masks, especially in schools with students of vaccination age. It doesn’t mean, though, that people need to stand right next to each other in a closed space or sit right next to another student at lunch (1 seat away won’t hurt someone). We should be able to go into a store without a mask and stay away from folks. However, we likely need to wear a mask on a plane where we are in a closed tube for a long time, sitting right next to a stranger. It really can be a smarter, not harder, approach.
To bring it home, I think I actually live in a fascinating area with the politics related to schools and the coronavirus. Parents, teachers, and schools do not just use a hands-off approach to COVID, but they are also aren’t going to go off the deep end and have virtual learning for months on in. You can see inadequate approaches. A great example was at my son’s school when they sent him home from a close contact. When he returned, they asked him to wear a mask, but they sat him right next to another student at lunch. To me, that’s the place where things can pass the easiest, so they could have put some space there. They did it all last year successfully (my kids were back in October of 2020), but why could they not do it now? I have also seen the good through my youngest daughter’s school. They ask for masks, but only when the kids are right next to each other. Seems pretty sensible to me.
Throughout all of this, we just need to go with a level of understanding and kindness. People have different opinions and want to see other things in their community, yet there is such a level of hatred for people that believe different things permeate this country that the extremes come out. If we all would just remember that happy medium is what matters, we would be much better off. We could live our lives while also not doing things like overwhelming our schools, teachers, and even health care facilities. We need to do better, and it all starts with respecting each other.