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Computer Programming for All Students

Many have suggested computer programming or simply, richer computer literacy should be a required skill for high school graduates to develop before going on to higher education and the workplace. Why would that be a good thing for the STEM classroom? Easy! All the skills that computer programming develops and calls for in our students are the same skills that help students succeed in science, technology, math and engineering!

What skills/competencies can computer programming develop in our students?

  • Logical Thinking – analytical thinking with reason and rationale
  • Linear Thinking – the step-by-step progression from one point to another (I introduced this type of thinking with a PB&J Sandwich lesson)
  • System Thinking – a holistic view of a problem
  • Structural – taking a problem and breaking it down into its parts
  • Just plain Thinking!!!
  • Planning  - taking a problem and creating a scheme, method or map prior to creating
  • Organizing – arrange in coherent and effective structures
  • Problem-solving – I always gave my students a real world scenario that they needed to create a tool, game, form or app to solve
  • Critical Thinking – I will assume that no one has written code that was completely right the first time around. Looking at one’s code critically to find the mistakes becomes  a fine “art and science” in programming
  • Troubleshooting – trial and error solutions to get the code to do what it is supposed to do develops patience while in the process and confidence when the code is correct
  • Creativity – making code characters turn into something that is user friendly takes a vision for eye appeal in creating the interface, while having the audience and problem both in mind
  • Teamwork – in my computer programming classes, I encourage peers helping, advising and consulting peers. The old adage “two heads are better than one” is definitely true when one is staring at the same code for any length of time and it all begins to look the same

Zach Whittaker in his Why Every Student Should be Taught Code, proposes that by integrating computer coding into our curricular content assessments, we, as teachers, can inspire students to “expand their horizons intellectually”.

Andy Young, in his Coding for Success January 23, 2012 blog post, wrote “Learning to code is learning to get under the skin of a problem and reduce it to its simplest form...Learning to code is ultimately a fantastic way to gain a multitude of transferrable skills.”

Through Mr. Young’s post, I learned about Code Year, a year-long project developed by Codeacademy that introduces registered subscribers to a new Javascript lesson each week for a year. I’ve gone through the first three lessons myself, and as a teacher of computer programming languages, I marvel at how this can expose students to coding and empower them to learn it on demand.

Additionally, computer programming can cultivate a way of thinking new to some of our left-brained students. In his blog post, Flash is just a fancy comic book – Teaching Visual Thinkers to Code, Mark Badger discusses how visual learners can become linear thinkers through animating illustrations in  Adobe Flash with Actionscript code. In his post, he suggests that creating the visuals and animation involved in creating interactive media is good for both sides of the brain.

So what can students code today? With all the user-friendly interfaces out there to lure in non-programmers and get their attention, students can create anything from simple stories, media, and problem solving applications to games and mobile apps!

More, so visual programming languages with very appealing interfaces are empowering young students or students who may not be enthusiastic about learning traditional coding languages.

Here are a few examples of programs and coding resources to teach and motivate a wide range of students to code:

How to get your students interested in learning to code? Start an after school computer coding club! Integrate computer coding exercises as a way of digital storytelling in science and math classes, or ask students to animate hard-to-understand STEM concepts through media and animation. Bringing to life physics principles is a lot of fun when using user-friendly visual programming languages.

Additionally, finding professionals and educators who can provide teachers ideas, projects and activities on how to integrate computer programming into any course is helpful. One of my favorite bloggers to follow is Alfred Thompson, a K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Manager for Microsoft. His Microsoft Education Blogger: Teaching Computer Science offers “do-able” computer programming activities for every level and subject. Websites such as Coding4Fun and Project Ideas provide ideas, projects and software to students. After students get hooked on computer programming, there are many avenues to progress to including creating games for Kinect! Kinect Education, a blog by Johnny Kissko, one of my fellow Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum team members, provides resources that can ignite and inspire students to be innovative in their learning when educators integrate computer programming into their content areas.

There are also sites available that put computer programming and STEM education in the same arena.

In my nine years of teaching, the most gratifying moments I observed as an educator in the classroom are when students figure out how to do something they never thought they would be able to do, and they do it well. It’s probably the only time I have seen anything close to an addiction for learning. Computer programming engages, empowers and brings a type of enjoyment and satisfaction that students’ learning can benefit from in a rich and meaningful way. Bringing computer programming into the STEM classroom is a win-win-win situation for the students, the content, and the community knowledge base. In the long run, the end results satisfy both sides of the brain along with bringing to the table 21st century skill development. Best of all? Computer Programming gives learning an active, analytical and animated nature. What’s not to love about coding and creating in the STEM classroom?

About the Author
Melanie Wiscount is a 2011 Siemens STEM Institute Fellow and a business/computer technology educator at the Palmyra Area High School in Palmyra, Pennsylvania. Melanie is an educational technology doctoral candidate at Wilkes University, beginning her dissertation in gesture-based learning according to learning styles using Kinect in the middle level science classroom. She is also an educational technology professional development designer and trainer and has presented at international, national, state and regional conferences as well as delivered online webinars to teachers and administrators. Melanie was awarded the Educators’ Choice Award at the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2011 Innovative Educators Forum in Redmond, WA and represented the U.S. at the 2011 Global Forum in Washington, D.C.

Posted on February 9, 2012 by Michael Gorman

cristian says:
25-Feb-12 12:26 PM

you forgot to mention starlogotng And netlogo

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Mike Gorman

Mike is an advocate for transforming education and bringing 21st Century Skills to classrooms. He was awarded Indiana STEM Educator of the Year and honored as a Microsoft 365 Global Education Hero.
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Lance Rougeux

Lance has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer and was recently highlighted in The Emergency Teacher, a book about urban teaching.
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Kyle Schutt

Kyle has worked with educators throughout the country to help them better understand how technology and digital media can be used to support instruction, motivate students, and increase passion for learning.
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