Nova Scotia is part of a growing trend to teach young children “coding”–a 21st century skill which used to be called “programming”. Programming actually used to be taught in high schools in the 60’s, when FORTRAN was the main programming language, and keypunches were still used. It employed understandings of translating mathematical algorithms into computer language. That is not how this generation of “coding” works.
“In a corner of the Nova Scotia legislature, Grade 6 students Bridget Daly and Hannah Harley ponder how to program small, yellow-and-black robots shaped like bumble bees.
“The 11-year-olds from Rockingham Elementary School in Halifax are setting direction and speed for a race between two “beebots” at Province House — an example of what’s coming to all elementary schools this fall as the government expands computer coding in the curriculum.
“The girls said learning computer code is a welcome challenge, and hands-on technology like the beebots will be a help in solving math and science problems.
” “Instead of having to visualize it and thinking about it, you can use it without having any problems,” said Hannah.”
And therein lies the problem.
I just went through a dreadful PD session as part of teacher prep week at the school where I’m teaching. The moderator (a staunch constructivist, full of condemnation for approaches in which students “regurgitate facts” rather than “construct their own knowledge” and other mischaracterizations of traditional teaching) bragged to us how he taught first graders how to code or program using a computer language, to draw a polygon of any number of sides specified.
Later in the PD, he had us work with “coding” using a language that employed pictorial symbols for commands. He seemed to think that it taught programming because the problems, as it were, amounted to drawing figures and it taught you how to “tell the computer” to move forward a specified distance, then turn a specified number of degrees, move forward again, and you could instruct it to repeat that sequence any number of times. As you progressed through the exercises, the program gave you harder problems and added more commands to your arsenal, including “lifting pen up”, “putting pen down” so you could draw lines that were not continuous with what you were drawing. He said it was well-scaffolded and thought such scaffolding was great. I agree scaffolding is good, but all the scaffolding in the world was not going to teach what computer science really is about under this approach.
The high level pictorial language actually was translating the commands into Java script, so you weren’t really learning the base language, any more than working with a spreadsheet is teaching you the underlying machine code that makes the spreadsheet work. Of course he had us work with the programs by ourselves rather than him offering instruction. That’s the constructivist way. It was OK if we received direct instruction from a fellow student, however. Why receiving instruction from a teacher is somehow “impure” but receiving instruction from a fellow classmate is not is beyond me but so are most of the bad practices that pass for education. And make many PD vendors rich.