Coding… The New Problem Solving

Coding in the classroom seems to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the world of technology in education. I have read countless articles on the idea of learning how to code in elementary settings. After reading several articles, I do believe that we, as educators, need to seriously consider the ways that learning how to code can benefit our students and where it belongs in the classroom.

This idea of coding is a new frontier for many of us. It wasn’t until I assisted at our school district’s annual tech camp that all of my reading started to make complete sense. Within the week, I observed coding in the hands of students entering the sixth grade. What I witnessed was eye opening. My definition of coding completely changed. Coding was no longer just about creating software. Coding was about thinking with logic, thinking critically, and problem solving.

It all started with cup stacking and drawing arrows. A stack of cups and a packet of designs were given to the campers. They were asked to “write” code using only arrows that explained how to complete a chosen design. Their code and stack of cups were given to another camper to try. A simple task of stacking cups became a complex task of thinking through a process. I heard students discussing where a camper might have gone wrong in his or her “coding” and how to fix the code. It was a simple task, but one that had these kids curious and determined to make their code work correctly.

The cup stacking activity led to a website called Scratch. The campers only needed a short tutorial on the website before they were off making sprites dance or move. They embedded sounds and timing with Scratch’s program. Once again the coding was simple and well organized, but I found everyone engaged into creating something unique to show what they had learned.

It was on the second and third days of using Scratch that I realized the depth of how powerful learning to code can be for our students. In those days, the campers were asked to develop something and embed it themselves. On the final day, they explored games already created by others who use the website and they had to change a piece of the game. I slowly realized how much problem solving was going on in the room. I began imagining that this is what coders go through everyday in their jobs. I could see the development of code that didn’t work as they had hoped and having to find a solution. Needless to say, I had a whole new admiration for those who develop software.

I now understood how educators can approach the idea of coding within their classroom. In one week at camp, I witnessed true problem solving, critical thinking, and risk taking, to produce a final product. As a teacher, I want my students to take those risks and tackle any problems with just as much determination as I saw in these campers.

It leaves me with one question. Is coding the answer to get my students problem solving in other areas of their education? The answer might be yes, and one I am willing and excited to explore.