In the late 1980s, early in my educational technology career, I attended a one-day conference about technology in schools. Held in a hotel in the Washington, DC area — I don’t remember which one — the conference convened a small number of teachers, identified as early adopters, people from that National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, what seemed hundreds of technology consultants from places like Cambridge, Palo Alto, and various state universities, and one older, somewhat fragile woman far ahead in the front of the room, who attended for a short time.
That was my first encounter with the life of retired Admiral Grace Hopper. She lived for only a few more years after that, passing away at the age of 85, but I remember her face, her eagle-eyed attention, and the reverence with which others in the room regarded her.
A hackathon is an event attended by students who gather for a few days to focus on solving problems by using their programming skills. Collaboration is key. According to Zachary Liu, a manager for the Princeton event, about 600 students attended from over 80 universities.
A hackathon is 21st Century learning at its best. The aim of each event is to identify problems that need solving and encourage students to work collaboratively, using their programming (coding) skills, to figure out potential solutions.
We educators offer great gifts to our 21st Century students when we demonstrate that we, too, can learn new things. By letting children see us mastering unfamiliar information, figuring out problems, overcoming challenges, and yes, even making mistakes, we help them develop more comfort and confidence when they make errors and feel like they are not making progress. We adults teach all the time, but we probably don’t model learning new material nearly enough, and the kids notice it.
As Ted Sizer wrote in his book, The Children Are Watching, they notice what we do and what we do not do. (A good book, by the way, for teachers and parents to read).
So this year I’m demonstrating how much I have to learn for students in grades one through five who attend my MIT Scratch coding activity. Literally, they are watching me learn how to code Scratch scripts.
I am learning how to code, and right now it’s hard. With all of the talk about teaching children to code — I agree, but sometimes the world of education goes overboard on our newly recognized philosophies — I decided to organize a small before-school activity using MIT’s Scratch coding site. There was only one problem with my program idea. I only knew a little bit about Scratch.
So I started the morning activity during the second week of school and by day two, a few of the 10-15 attendees (children in grades 3-5) were ahead of me. “What’s a variable?” one of them asked. “Do you know how to make a game where the sprite (the little person on the screen who carries out the coding commands) bumps into a ball?” asked another. My answer in both cases was no. Sure I knew how to do many beginning tasks in Scratch, but not what these children wanted to know.
Now those of you readers who are educators and parents know that kids often take care of things like this by figuring out things for themselves — and my students did just that, experimenting and trying things out — but I wondered, “If these questions were coming up on the second day, what would the second week be like?” I needed to master some new Scratch skills and fast. Continue reading “Learning How to Code: Relearning How to Learn – Report #1”→