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May 12, 2016
Vol. 11
No. 17

What's All the Fuss About Coding?

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      When I was a young musician learning to play the vibraphone, I remember listening to Milt Jackson and thinking I could never make an instrument sing like he did. While I never did reach his level of genius, I did become proficient enough to earn a master's degree in music performance and play a concerto as a soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony (ironically, the piece was originally written for Milt Jackson).
      Likewise, people who don't know how to code see a complicated process that must surely be beyond their abilities. They think, "I could never design and write the code for an iPhone app." True: there are some genius programmers. But you don't need to be a genius to program.
      So why should teachers take valuable time away from math and science instruction to involve their students in coding? Simply put, coding applies math and science to the creation of something tangible and useful. It empowers students to move from passive recipients and consumers of learning to true producers of content. Coding puts students in control of their devices.
      Hour of Code, Code Academy,—many resources to support more coding in the classroom exist. As teachers, where should you start? Here are some tips.
      1. Join the Hour of Code movement. Hour of Code is a global movement encouraging tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries to spend at least one hour learning computational thinking. Go to and click on the "Teach" link at the top of the page. There, you will find resources, lesson plans, and even volunteers in your area willing to come to your school and help you with your first Hour of Code. I entered my zip code and found more than 50 volunteers within 15 miles of my house. Learn more by watching this short video.
      2. Use Scratch with your kids. Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Students can use Scratch to create interactive stories, animations, and games while sharpening their math and problem-solving skills. It is easy to learn and best of all, it's free.
      3. Introduce your students to Tynker. Tynker is a game-based way to learn coding with plug-and-play instructions. Elementary and middle school students can program monsters for battle, create music videos, and do even more while learning about coding.
      4. Sign up for Code Academy. Students can begin to learn how to control a computer with plug-and-play applications such as Scratch and Tynker, but soon some will be ready to write actual code. Code Academy offers free courses that will take students (and their teachers) through clear sequences for learning Java, Ruby on Rails, AngularJS, and more.
      5. Look into Sphero. The first four tips on this list were free activities. Sphero is a small, robotic device you will need to purchase, but one that your students can program to run through mazes, change colors, and do even more. Watch this short video about Sphero. Teachers working with Sphero can also join Sphero's SPRK Lightning Lab to download lesson plans and share activities with classes around the world.
      Coding is a great way to get your students engaged and excited about learning logic and math skills. It's really about the process of breaking down and solving problems using logic, sequence, and precision. A program will do exactly what it is written to do. When students learn to code, they can not only see their ideas appear on the screen, but also they can share them with the world. How empowering is that?

      Howard Pitler is a dynamic facilitator, speaker, and instructional coach with a proven record of success spanning four decades. With an extensive background in professional development, he works with schools and districts internationally and is a regular speaker at national, state, and district conferences and workshops.

      Pitler is currently Associate Professor at Emporia State University in Kansas. Prior to that, he served for 19 years as an elementary and middle school principal in an urban setting. During his tenure, his elementary school was selected as an Apple Distinguished Program and named "One of the Top 100 Schools in America" by Redbook Magazine. His middle school was selected as "One of the Top 100 Wired Schools in America" by PC Magazine. He also served for 12 years as a senior director and chief program officer for McREL International, and he is currently serving on the Board of Colorado ASCD. He is an Apple Distinguished Educator, Apple Teacher, National Distinguished Principal, and Smithsonian Laureate.

      He is a published book author and has written numerous magazine articles for Educational Leadership® magazine, EdCircuit, and Connected Educator, among others.


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