How Wonderful, It Rains! – It’s Time to Focus on Work

Start of the academic year is like an annual new beginning; children transition to a new grade and we adults have a chance to start something fresh and exciting: a hobby, a degree or a different manner of working. The rainy days of August are just perfect for plunging into the planning of the new season; I’m exhilarated to tackle the latest coding tasks and teaching assignments starting in September. I hope you are too!

This fall is about teaching and learning about computational thinking without screens; demonstrating unplugged coding activities to transfer the skills and concepts of computer science to the pre and primary school students. Luckily, plenty of printed and online resources offer suitable, age-appropriate activities for young children as well as tools for parents and educators alike.

helloruby-640_medium1-e1534255570236.jpgMy personal favorite for the unplugged classroom activities is Hello Ruby, the world’s most whimsical way to learn about technology, computing, and coding, as described on Hello Ruby’s website. Originally a book, created by Linda Liukas, now a series of them translated in more than 20 languages, aims to create, promote and evaluate exceptional educational content on computational thinking for 4 -to 10-year-olds. Playful activities can be downloaded from the website and complement Ruby’s adventures in coding, her journey inside the computer and expedition to the Internet. Hello Ruby also provides classroom resources for educators.

Code.org – Hour of Code supplies language independent unplugged activities for all grade levels from pre-readers onwards. Any educator is encouraged to teach the fundamentals of computer science, whether they have computers in the classroom or not. These lessons may be used as a stand-alone course or as complementary lessons for any computer science course.

Pre and primary school teachers are well-equipped to use the above mentioned age-appropriate exercises and innovate more because they regularly use hands-on manipulatives, games, songs and stories in teaching content to their students. These very activities can be useful in engaging young children in developing computational thinking skills such as algorithmic thinking, decomposition, abstraction or pattern recognition. Asking children to work with partners or in groups develops behaviors for working with others and dealing with frustration. Nurturing communication, cooperation, and empathy are maybe even more important skills than learning to code at an early age.

 

Put that Learning into Practice

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Learning something is somewhat comfortable, but putting it into practice is the tricky part. We have an extraordinary ability to grasp new knowledge, but it’s not until we implement the learning that it becomes a real skill. We need to activate the potential by creating something useful, practical and/or beautiful that showcases the accumulated information in practice.

A new language, for example, is of no use, if you don’t read in it or communicate in speaking or writing. The same applies to computer skills: your knowledge of JavaScript or Python will only be tested when you create a new web application.

Project-based learning provides a solution. You gain content knowledge and accumulate critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills by carrying out a meaningful real-life project. For example, when I learned front-end web development, it was only the first big project, Neighbourhood map, that tested if I had actually understood all the online lectures I had listened over the past few months.

There are dozens of online courses teaching web development, but I personally favor the Nanodegree programs of Udacity because they are project-based and community oriented. Udacity provides excellent forums for asking questions from peers and mentors alike. Students work on different projects over an extended period of time – from a week up to a few months. They are engaged in creating apps with varying complexity and therefore get to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a product for the web or app store. Over the course of project development, and especially when you feel like giving up, the community is there to support you.

Screen capture of a Cafe and co-work appThe Udacity Nanodegree programs don’t only require us, students, to implement the skills we have acquired but at the same time provide us with the portfolio projects demanded when applying to jobs. These projects also serve as references for future work. The code has been reviewed and is, therefore, according to industry standards.

Putting knowledge into practice should be a requirement for all educational bodies. I might have become a mechanical engineer had the formulas of rotational motion been demonstrated in the real-life projects at the high school physics class!