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Cracking the Code: Schools Make Computer Coding a Powerful Learning Tool

Friday, July 12, 2013, 2 to 3 p.m. ET
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 Cracking the Code: Schools Make Computer Coding a Powerful Learning Tool(07/12/2013) 
10:53
Bryan Toporek: 
Good morning, and welcome to today's free live chat, "Cracking the Code: Schools Make Computer Coding a Powerful Learning Tool." I've just opened today's chat for questions, so please start submitting yours below.

We'll be back at 2 p.m. ET today with Education Week Digital Directions senior writer Michelle Davis. We hope to see you then!
Friday July 12, 2013 10:53 Bryan Toporek
11:55
Bryan Toporek: 
For those looking for some background on this subject, I'd encourage you to check out Michelle's story from the latest issue of Digital Directions: http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/06/12/03game-coding.h06.html
Friday July 12, 2013 11:55 Bryan Toporek
1:50
Bryan Toporek: 
Thanks again for joining us for today's free live chat on schools making computer coding a powerful learning tool. We'll be getting underway with Michelle in just about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, keep submitting those questions! And for some background on the subject, check out Michelle's story from last month:
http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/06/12/03game-coding.h06.html
Friday July 12, 2013 1:50 Bryan Toporek
2:01
Bryan Toporek: 

Thanks again, folks, for joining us for today's free live chat, "Cracking the Code: Schools Make Computer Coding a Powerful Learning Tool." I'm joined today by Michelle Davis, senior writer for  Education Week Digital Directions.

Michelle, can you introduce yourself & talk a little bit about the story you wrote for the most recent issue of Digital Directions?

Friday July 12, 2013 2:01 Bryan Toporek
2:02
Michelle Davis: 
Thanks Bryan. Hi everyone! I've been writing about technology for Education Week Digital Directions for the last several years. I got interested in coding through another story I was writing in which the superintendent of the Albemarle County schools told me of the overwhelming interest among students in a summer coding program they were putting on. When I probed further, I realized there was a whole coding movement and push toward getting k-12 students into computer coding, which led me to this story.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:02 Michelle Davis
2:03
Bryan Toporek: 
Great. Thanks, Michelle! This question from Lacoste seems like a good place to start:
Friday July 12, 2013 2:03 Bryan Toporek
2:03
[Comment From LacosteLacoste: ] 
Um, I don't know how to code. Where do I even begin?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:03 Lacoste
2:04
Michelle Davis: 
I think a lot of people (myself included) feel intimidated by the idea of coding. But there are many basic coding games and programs out there that people can work with on their own....
Friday July 12, 2013 2:04 Michelle Davis
2:06
Michelle Davis: 
Scratch, for example is a free program from the MIT Media Lab that allows students to create interactive stories and games. http://scratch.mit.edu/. Other basic programs that come to mind are Alice and Kodu. If you poke around online you can find lots of them.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:06 Michelle Davis
2:07
Bryan Toporek: 
Excellent. Thanks for sharing those resources. I know we've received a couple questions about that already.

Let's go into this question from Miriam next.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:07 Bryan Toporek
2:07
[Comment From MiriamMiriam: ] 
Presumably, learning coding is dependent on students developing an understanding of source code, as it exists today. Is there any risk that coding (like other areas of technology) is evolving so quickly that what students are learning will be out of date before long?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:07 Miriam
2:10
Michelle Davis: 
I'm not a coding expert, but I don't think so. The coding programs are constantly evolving and some part of coding is just a basic understanding of how to approach coding problems and work through them. Learning the basics can take students far and help them learn how to work through new coding programs or new evolutions of existing programs. It's like any other field -- constantly changing.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:10 Michelle Davis
2:10
Bryan Toporek: 
Thanks for clearing that up. Can you address this question from Guest next?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:10 Bryan Toporek
2:10
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
David Larabee: How are we going to get enough teachers to be able to teach this? Elementary teachers are generally weaker in math and other prerequisites.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:10 Guest
2:13
Michelle Davis: 
That's a great question. There are a lot of people in the coding world who believe coding should just be worked into all subjects across curricula and not taught as a separate subject. So they would argue that you don't need to be a computer scientist or have an extensive coding background to teach the basics of this stuff. There are a lot of coding programs out there, Globaloria, globaloria.org, comes to mind that already have a curricula in place and it wouldn't take too much for a teacher to provide support...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:13 Michelle Davis
2:15
Michelle Davis: 
For example, I had a middle school science teacher tell me on twitter today that she’s going to use LearnStreet through Edmodo to do some coding projects in her class this year. It's not a coding class but she's going to work it into the course.
www.learnstreet.com
Friday July 12, 2013 2:15 Michelle Davis
2:16
Bryan Toporek: 
Thanks for sharing those resources, Michelle. I'm going to turn the tables & ask our audience a question now.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:16 Bryan Toporek
2:16
Should computer coding be included in a K-12 curriculum?
Yes, it should be mandatory
 ( 58% )
Yes, but it should be offered as an elective
 ( 42% )
No, it should only be offered as a club
 ( 0% )

Friday July 12, 2013 2:16 
2:16
Bryan Toporek: 
Meanwhile, can you address this question from David?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:16 Bryan Toporek
2:17
[Comment From DavidDavid: ] 
Coding seems like such a specific skill, which could be learned in a relatively short about of time. Wouldn't schools be better off focusing on building broader sets of skills promote higher-order thinking across subjects?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:17 David
2:18
Michelle Davis: 
I'll be interested to see what people think here in this poll. Some people think it's so important that it needs to be mandatory and others think it should just be an extra. Now on to David's question.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:18 Michelle Davis
2:21
Michelle Davis: 
I don't think coding is something that is learned in a short period of time. People compare it to learning a new language. You might be able to do very basic things in a short period of time (like ask directions in Spanish!) but if the more you study you and progress to fluency, you can then do more complex and sophisticated work (like reading and analyzing the original version of Don Quixote).
Friday July 12, 2013 2:21 Michelle Davis
2:21
Michelle Davis: 
Interesting that 71 percent of this crowd wants mandatory coding according to the poll.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:21 Michelle Davis
2:21
Bryan Toporek: 
Thanks, Michelle. Before we go onto the next question, I wanted to publish this response from one of our audience members, addressing Miriam's question from earlier about the risk of coding lessons becoming outdated.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:21 Bryan Toporek
2:21
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
The constructs of coding don't change -- just the syntax between languages. Before becoming a teacher I was a programmer. I have had to learn more current languages, but the basic constructs like For Loops, If conditions, arrays, etc. really don't change. Programming for the web is one area where things may change somewhat, due to changes in the web technology.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:21 Guest
2:22
Bryan Toporek: 
Now, Michelle, can you take this question from Cameron?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:22 Bryan Toporek
2:22
Michelle Davis: 
Thanks for that comment! I'm definitely not a programmer.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:22 Michelle Davis
2:22
[Comment From CameronCameron: ] 
How does the image or stereotype about computer science graduates affect the reach of coding classes and programs? How can we change this image and appeal to more students?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:22 Cameron
2:23
Michelle Davis: 
Very good point Cameron. Before I wrote this story, my image of a coder was still the nerdy guy in his parents' basement sitting along with his laptop. The more I spoke with people, the more I realized that coding is very interactive and collaborative....
Friday July 12, 2013 2:23 Michelle Davis
2:25
Michelle Davis: 
Also, there are numerous groups working to change that stereotype and make coding more attractive to young people. Code.org put out a slick video (you can see it on their web site) they produced which features a lot of famous people, like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas expounding on the benefits of coding. It also highlights the cool workspaces that companies which value coding offer...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:25 Michelle Davis
2:27
Michelle Davis: 
Also, there are several organizations reaching out to specific populations. CodeEd aims to teach computer science skills to girls, www.codeed.org, for example.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:27 Michelle Davis
2:28
Bryan Toporek: 
Great examples of how organizations are attempting to change the perception of coding. Thanks for sharing those.

Here's a question from Sam specifically about CoderDojos. Can you weigh in?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:28 Bryan Toporek
2:28
[Comment From SamSam: ] 
I see that CoderDojos are being run independently by volunteers in some schools, and that seems somewhat controversial. Do the volunteers have to know coding themselves, or are they simply computer lab monitors while the students take an online coding course, moving along without adult input?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:28 Sam
2:30
Michelle Davis: 
That's a good question Sam. My impression is that CoderDojos are run pretty independently and are set up and run differently in different places. Some in Albemarle County (which I wrote about) are after-school classes but run by a school computer science teacher who volunteers. Others, are run strictly by volunteers not associated with a school. You certainly would have to have some coding background to provide the support needed, but I know in Albemarle, for example, they don't allow the adults to touch the computers so they won't be tempted to solve problems for the kids.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:30 Michelle Davis
2:31
Bryan Toporek: 
Here's another question from Sarah about CoderDojos. Mind taking this one next?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:31 Bryan Toporek
2:31
[Comment From SarahSarah: ] 
What have you found about the boy-girl ratio of students in these CoderDojo clubs? What efforts are being made to get girls as well as boys interested in computer science?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:31 Sarah
2:33
Michelle Davis: 
Excellent question. I don't know about the ratios in these CoderDojos, but I would assume it's heavy on the boy. In fact, after I wrote the story I looked into my local CoderDojo (which is run out of a community center) for my 9-year-old son, but didn't think of it for my 12-year-old daughter. So maybe I fall into the stereotype too. However, there definitely are organizations who are introducing coding to girls, like CodeEd which I mentioned earlier...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:33 Michelle Davis
2:34
Michelle Davis: 
Certainly becoming a coder as a girl is going to make you stand out in the job market later on.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:34 Michelle Davis
2:36
Michelle Davis: 
Also, girlswhocode.com is another organization.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:36 Michelle Davis
2:36
Bryan Toporek: 
Let's switch gears for a second here. Can you take this question from Mike about how computer coding can fit into the K-12 curriculum?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:36 Bryan Toporek
2:36
[Comment From MikeMike: ] 
Are any schools fitting coding into classes other than "computer/gaming class"? Could it be part of the math curriculum?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:36 Mike
2:37
Michelle Davis: 
Thanks for bringing that up Mike. A lot of schools are using gaming as the hook to interest students in coding. Once they pique that interest they can move them on from there. But experts say coding is uniquely suited for teaching some math concepts too....
Friday July 12, 2013 2:37 Michelle Davis
2:40
Michelle Davis: 
I wrote about Bootstrap, which uses coding to teach albebraic and geometric concepts, www.bootstrapworld.org. A couple of teachers have raved about it to me. And I had a student in a Washington DC school tell me that his algebra grade improved significantly using Bootstrap. I imagine there are other areas too, that coding could work in.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:40 Michelle Davis
2:40
Bryan Toporek: 
Before we dive into this next question, I've got another poll question for our audience.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:40 Bryan Toporek
2:40
What is the best way to get students interested in computer coding?
Through computer gaming
 ( 60% )
Through required courses
 ( 30% )
As after-school activities
 ( 0% )
As a club or activity not associated with school
 ( 10% )

Friday July 12, 2013 2:40 
2:41
Bryan Toporek: 
Here's a related question from Dan.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:41 Bryan Toporek
2:41
[Comment From DanDan: ] 
How would schools have time to add computer coding to their already overfull curricular plates? Do you think this is more viable being taught through an extracurricular club, as is done with other career fields (e.g. rocket club, drama club, debate club, etc.)
Friday July 12, 2013 2:41 Dan
2:43
Michelle Davis: 
I think that's a fair question for teachers who are often already overwhelmed, particularly with the Common Core coming along. In some schools, where there may not be a teacher with a programming background, or someone with an interest in this area, the best way to start may be offer after-school or extracurricular classes through an organization like CoderDojor or something else...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:43 Michelle Davis
2:45
Michelle Davis: 
But as I've mentioned earlier, another strategy could be for a teacher to introduce one or two projects or interactive activities in a math or science class that give students a small taste or introduction to coding. Students often talk about the intimidation factor when considering taking a computer science or coding class and that small introduction could help a student get over that...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:45 Michelle Davis
2:45
Michelle Davis: 
I had a student taking a high school coding class say that he would never have dreamed of taking a computer science course in college, but now that he knew a bit about it he wouldn't be intimidated.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:45 Michelle Davis
2:46
Bryan Toporek: 
Great, thanks for sharing that example. It seems like most of our audience thinks compute gaming is the best way to get students interested in coding, based on the poll results.

Here's a question from Jake about coding and the common-core standards. Any insights you can share?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:46 Bryan Toporek
2:48
[Comment From JakeJake: ] 
Though the story never referenced the Common Core State Standards, the teaching of what you referred to as "higher order thinking" skills seemed to call out for a discussion. Can you address how teachers might align coding with the common core? Is there a cross-curricular way that some of your sources for this story might already be using?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:48 Jake
2:49
Michelle Davis: 
I agree that computer gaming can often be the best way to introduce coding. Students are just so familiar with it and so interested in gaming. Now let me get to Jake's question...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:49 Michelle Davis
2:52
Michelle Davis: 
I think there definitely should be some sort of discussion about how coding can align to the Common Core. Many, many teachers and coding experts cited the higher order thinking skills in relation to coding that you referenced and which are emphasized by the Common Core. Teachers say it teaches collaboration skills and the ability to come at a problem from a variety of angles, to be persistent and not to give up when an initial effort fails. I think teachers and coding advocates would have to do some research to see how coding specifically aligns to the Common Core, but it seems to be a natural fit.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:52 Michelle Davis
2:53
Bryan Toporek: 
Great. Thanks for shedding some light on that.

Can you take this question from Ralph next?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:53 Bryan Toporek
2:53
[Comment From RalphRalph: ] 
I don't disagree about the importance of coding, but we don't even have music or art. What do low-resource districts do?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:53 Ralph
2:56
Michelle Davis: 
Great point Ralph. I agree that music and art are also extremely important. But coding advocates would likely say that it's even more important for low-income schools because the economic impact of learning to code is extremely significant. According to Code.org, by 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs in the computer field in the U.S., but only 400,000 college students majoring in computer science. Those jobs come with significantly higher wages than jobs associated with many other college degrees...
Friday July 12, 2013 2:56 Michelle Davis
2:58
Michelle Davis: 
I think low-resource schools should do a few things, including looking to organizations like CoderDojo and others which provide volunteers to teach coding to students. Also, I know some schools have partnered with local companies on this and get professionals in the field to come in and work with students. It benefits local companies to get students coding so they can grow their future workforce.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:58 Michelle Davis
2:58
Bryan Toporek: 
Good advice, Michelle. It looks like we've only got time for one more question, so let's end the chat on this question from Brendan.
Friday July 12, 2013 2:58 Bryan Toporek
2:59
[Comment From Brendan M.Brendan M.: ] 
I find it odd that in all the talk about coding there's no talk about the booming mobile phone app market. A lot of higher ed faculty are starting to use tools like MIT's TaleBlazer and others to let students create learning games on mobile devices. Did you see any interest in that among K12 teachers?
Friday July 12, 2013 2:59 Brendan M.
3:01
Michelle Davis: 
Great point Brendan. There are definitely programs out there that focus on teaching students to design apps, which certainly use coding skills. If you do a search you'll find a lot of teachers doing this. In my story, the students of a Washington DC teacher were working to design a mobile app to give tourists an interactive experience as they visited the monuments.
Friday July 12, 2013 3:01 Michelle Davis
3:02
Bryan Toporek: 
Well, it looks like that's all the time we have for today. Any final coding thoughts you'd like to share, Michelle?
Friday July 12, 2013 3:02 Bryan Toporek
3:03
Michelle Davis: 
I just want to thank everyone for their great questions and participation. If you want to continue this discussion, check me out on twitter at EWmdavis. Thanks everyone!
Friday July 12, 2013 3:03 Michelle Davis
3:04
Bryan Toporek: 
Great. Thanks, Michelle!

Thanks to all who could join us today for this free chat on computer coding in K-12 schools. We hope you enjoyed your time with us. A special thanks to Michelle Davis for participating as our expert for the day.

We'll have a transcript of today's chat posted on this same page within the hour. And as Michelle mentioned, be sure to follow her at @EWMDavis and our Digital Directions channel at @EdWeekEdTech for all the latest ed-tech news.

Have a great weekend, all!
Friday July 12, 2013 3:04 Bryan Toporek
3:04
 

 
 
 

Cracking the Code: Schools Make Computer Coding a Powerful Learning Tool

Friday, July 12, 2013, 2 to 3 p.m. ET

Computer programmers and software engineers are urging that K-12 students be introduced to computer coding—designing and writing source code for computers—earlier in their educational careers, even as early as elementary school. They’re predicting a scarcity of professionals able to code and teachers are lauding coding as a way to teach everything from math to higher order thinking. Students are being drawn into the field through coding for video games, but are going on to see the use of coding in many different areas.

Guest:
Michelle R. Davis, senior writer, Education Week Digital Directions (@EWMDavis)

Bryan Toporek, online news producer, Education Week, moderated this chat. (@SchooledinSport)

Related Story:

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