21st century skills. This term is now more than a decade old, but educators are still posing questions on how they can prepare students for a world that is constantly changing. By adding coding to your STEM and STEAM programs, you’ll be able to not only add a “21st century skill” on its own, but you’ll also be fostering collaboration, problem solving and creativity.
During our webinar with our friends over at Smartbrief, we heard from Christopher Kunkel, STEM coordinator and math teacher at Hoboken Charter School, Kelly Knight, STEAM coordinator at Riverside Presbyterian Day School, and Liza Stark, sr. manager of learning and engagement at littleBits. All three presenters had different ideas on merging coding and creativity in the classroom. Here are some key points:
1. Don’t be afraid to jump right in and learn alongside your students.
All three presenters said the same thing: “I didn’t start teaching code as an expert.” Kelly had never even built a circuit until she attended a Constructing Modern Knowledge conference and was assigned to a table full of littleBits. Nowadays, all three of our presenters are leading Hour Of Code events, issuing coding challenges, or teaching coding to students. As an educator, it can be scary to put yourself out there to your students and simply say “I don’t know” — but doing so can actually be extremely empowering for your students. By embracing the journey of learning code together, you’ll be teaching them the value of lifelong learning.
2. Give them a reason to code.
Chris found while some students thrived off of the coding tutorials and were super engaged, others started to get bored, which can lead to behavioral problems. He started exploring resources that issued coding “challenges.” Through these challenges he also teamed up with Girls Who Code to create a community around coding. When trying to reach historically underserved populations like girls, students of color, and low-income students, it’s imperative that they create meaningful projects in a supportive space. Creativity is sparked by purpose — give your students an epic mission and you’ll be surprised at how far they can go!
3. Find like-minded colleagues.
It can seem daunting to argue for the chance to bring coding to your classroom if you’re met with resistance from your leaders. This is why you should find your cheerleaders – is the librarian secretly obsessed with C++? Is your fellow math teacher trying to incorporate more computational thinking? By garnering support from even one colleague, you’ll show how well coding travels across curriculum and can be applied to different subjects. For example, Kelly used coding in her STEAM class to demonstrate the concept of erosion. Hands-on projects can put abstract concepts into a context students can truly grasp and also fosters the ability to create them.
4. Make it about more than coding – make it about fun.
Traditionally, the concept of coding is very much tied to a computer. However, with new tools and visual languages, students can program everything from BB8s to games. When marrying coding with hands-on learning, you can apply coding to different facets of knowledge. Whether it’s creating a photo project based on a coded heart, or coming up with a way to clean water, coding can fit into any classroom. More so than that, it can also be fun and become yet another tool to create with.
In case you missed it, you can watch the webinar here. When it comes to having fun while coding, the littleBits Code Kit makes this possible by making games through code. With over 10 hours of lessons and many more resources (including an NGSS curricular crosswalk) your students with be cracking code in no time. The Code Kit ships in early June, but we’re accepting purchase orders now!
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