“If I can charge them with courage and confidence then I have done my job,” Grade 8 teacher, Code Class 2016.
Over the past few months, Lighthouse Labs, CUEBC and Kids Code Jeunesse have been delivering Code Class workshops to Metro Vancouver and BC teachers in various schools around the city. As teachers, beginning coders and Vancouver fans, we went to the workshop to learn, to interview teachers and to write about this interesting collaboration between educators, non-profit organizations and social enterprises. Spoiler Alert: We left the workshop more inspired than when we arrived.
“We want teachers and students to feel comfortable being uncomfortable.”
The organizers of this workshop wanted to address teachers’ fears of having to be experts in a rapidly changing field that may be new to them, their students, their colleagues and their administrators. Workshop leaders, organizers and tech mentors reassured participants that coding is one of the areas where it’s okay to not know everything. If we are comfortable being uncomfortable, we can take risks, accept that we will make mistakes and learn much more in the process.
“We want to learn as much as we can.”
So many teachers we spoke to were enthusiastic and excited by the workshops and by learning more about coding, robotics, and design. Many of the Code Class workshops take place on the weekends; it’s amazing how many teachers were/are willing to use personal time to participate in this process.
“Can you do this for me?”
Teachers talked about hearing this question in their classrooms so often that it made them realize how many students struggle with problem-solving. Large numbers of students would rather ask for help rather than try to figure something out for themselves. And quite a few teachers pointed out that when students do ask for help, they often struggle to articulate or define the problem.
A wonderful thing about learning computational thinking and coding is that there is a major focus on solving problems. Taking time to think through and define a problem, coming up with different solutions and testing them out is a regular part of the coding process. For many, this type of work can redefine what it means to learn.
“Our high school student tech-buddies inspired us.”
A lot of the teachers of younger students that we spoke with initially started teaching and learning about programming during last year’s Hour of Code by working with high school buddies. The effect on both groups of students was inspiring to their teachers. Students and teachers wanted more connections, more learning and more collaboration.
“Technology infrastructure is essential for implementing change.”
There are a lot of expectations on schools and teachers in terms of the new BC Curriculum on Applied Design. Some schools and districts have access to laptops, tablets and a a tech support person. Some have computer labs with older computers that are booked weeks in advance. Some have new tech tools piled up in a resource room that no one really knows about. WiFi ranges from excellent to sputtering in Metro Vancouver schools. Teachers pointed out that without the infrastructure, it’s hard to make real change. It’s inspiring that even when schools and districts are still working on infrastructure, teachers are attending workshops where they can learn and support their students with the Applied Design initiative.
“There is a group of older teachers who learned typing skills in school and feel uncomfortable around computers and mobile devices. Most of our students grew up with smart phones, tablets and web apps and they have no idea how they really work or how to troubleshoot when they have problems. And then there is a group of teachers, my generation, who learned some basic programming in school and who have been using computers and mobile devices for a long time. Our experiences learning and teaching with tech can help bridge the gaps.”
The concept of Digital Natives takes on a new meaning as we think about how so many elementary and middle school students feel comfortable with tech until something goes wrong. It makes us hopeful to see the ways in which adult learners and teachers can provide a safe and empowering environment both for other teachers and for their students.
“This kind of curriculum and teaching can even the playing field for non-traditional learners.”
In spite of the pressures on teachers and an ever-increasing workload, so many teachers at the workshops expressed excitement about what technology education can do for students. Several participants talked with us about the ways in which coding, technology and applied design, when integrated, can help students learn and express their learning in different ways with students at the centre of the learning – not the tech and not the teachers.
“Kids are helping each other and working together in ways I didn’t expect.”
So many teachers talked to us about the fact that as quickly as some students were ready to raise their hands and ask for help, there was an increasing number of students willing to stop what they were working on to help others. Often learning along with their students, when teachers don’t know ‘the answer’, students who do know step in to coach, to teach and to explain.
“I came to Code Class to learn more about how I can help integrate these technologies and ways of thinking into the curriculum.”
Several participants spoke about their desire to learn enough about coding and tech that they could help colleagues use it to develop and enhance their classroom learning and curricula, at least with Middle and Elementary school. If students learned with these tools and incorporated new ways of thinking and problem solving into their regular learning habits, it would help them in all subjects as well as in their daily lives.
“If I can charge them with courage and confidence then I have done my job.”
Connecting technology learning to relationships and to connecting to students as people, puts all learning in context and is more likely to result in students who feel empowered to create, learn, solve problems and care about each other.
This incredible group of professionals is a humbling reminder that we all have something to learn. Our students are lucky to have teachers who want to empower them to create and not just consume technology and teachers who are willing to make mistakes as they learn alongside them.