Coding is the language of the future — and the present.
It empowers people to custom craft a website, create flashy animation and run machines.
It is and will be a vital, marketable skill to many jobs that haven’t yet been created but will exist for our students.
This language of the future is a foreign language to many of us.
It is to me. My grasp of coding includes the most basic concepts of HTML, which creates web content. I learned BASIC as a sixth and seventh grader and created some fun programs with a friend for our regional media fair.
We’re just coming off Computer Science Education Week where students were encouraged to learn an “Hour of Code.” (Even though the “Hour of Code” week is over, the idea could certainly be incorporated into classes at any time.)
Even though I’m not a master coder, I would like to be — and I’d like my students to be, too. That’s because coding gives you so much more than the ability to create a web page or to program software.
It promotes some of the skills and values that I want to see in my students — and in my own children.
1. It promotes complex thinking.
Writing code takes deep, involved thinking skills. There are so many moving parts. The terminology is vast.
When you have thousands of lines of code and you have to remember what you’ve written, where it is and how it affects what you’re doing now, it’s a mental exercise of organization and logic and creativity. Sounds like the kind of brain work that I want to promote.
2. It opens doors of possibility.
Can’t find the kind of website that does what you want to do? Make it.
They say “there’s an app for that” but you can’t find it in the App Store? Create it.
“It doesn’t exist yet” becomes less and less of an excuse for inaction when you know how to code — or at least how coding works.
You can create it yourself. Learn how to make it, and if you can’t figure it out, Google it. I created this site, Ditch That Textbook, as well as a site to help Indiana teachers gather evidence for their teacher evaluations, not because I’m a super web developer. It was more because I had a problem I wanted to solve and was willing to create a solution and dig for answers to problems that popped up as I created it.
In this digital age, “I don’t know how” isn’t an excuse.
3. It breaks the “I can’t” barrier.
My students all too often fall into the “teacher-driven robot” mentality. They think only as far as necessary to complete an activity, pass a test or get a grade. Often, this mentality promotes an “I can’t” mindset. Coding blows the doors off the “I can’ts.”
Give students a doable coding assignment and let them complete it. Then they can.
Have them go to the next level. Then they really can.
Teach them how to wield this technological weapon at their disposal. Then there’s very little they can’t do.
It’s a total mentality shift.
4. It gives access to something that’s everywhere.
As we start to understand how coding works, we see the world in a different way. Looking at the URL of a webpage becomes a snapshot into how it works and how it was created.
A basic knowledge of the logic of coding is a key or access code of sorts. It gives you access to things you never could reach before. It allows you to tinker with the guts of a website (and learn how to fix it when it comes to a crashing halt!).
Code is everywhere. If something touches my day-to-day life in so many places, I want to have at least a basic grasp of it.
5. It demands attention to detail.
A single wrong letter can be the monkey wrench that grinds all the gears in your programming to a halt.
Use the wrong command in that software you’re writing? Better head back to the drawing board to work it out.
In these days, when text message abbreviations are popping up all over and atrocious spelling and grammar are all over Facebook, a little focus on details is needed. Thankfully, coding promotes it.
6. It forces you to make something.
Ours is a consumer society, especially when it comes to online information.
We read articles. We check out each other’s Facebook statuses. We listen to music and watch YouTube videos.
But we rarely contribute. It’s so easy for our students to do a Google search and find what they’re looking for (or a reasonable facsimile). Why would they make it themselves?
Because the world belongs to the makers.
Because the deeper learning comes from making rather than consuming.
Because if we were all consumers, nothing would ever get accomplished.
We need more makers. And coding is the language of making.
So where do we start?
I’m still trying to wrap my own brain around that one. I know that I value the lessons my students can learn by coding, but I haven’t figured out how it fits into my own foreign language classroom … or many other traditional classrooms, for that matter.
But I do know that coding is a skill — and is made up of skills — that my students need.
Some sites, like codecademy, teach the basics of coding for free. LiveCode is a good entry point for students or teachers to write their own apps for free. (I learned about LiveCode from this session at a recent conference.)
I think our best bet, though, is just to start.
Matt is scheduled to present at the following conferences this school year:
Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!