Pre-Coding Part 1: A Quick Look Backward, or “What the Heck is Pre-Coding?”

Copy of Pre-coding (3)

When I started my personal project to learn to code almost five months ago, I wrote a blog post titled Why Coding? Why Now?, dated October 6, 2014. I listed out my main motivations for wanting to learn to code, and I want to revisit one of them today: To dissect what “pre-coding” is. I want to spend some time processing what I have learned about coding since this project began, and to pull out some thoughts about what types of skills, ways of thinking, and mindsets precede understanding computer programming. I want to use this blog to continue to explore these ideas, but first I want to look back to October 2014 and revisit my words surrounding this topic:


What is Pre-Coding? (Written in October, 2014)

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Click here to learn more about the Catherine Cook School

In 2013, I attended a conference in Chicago entitled “Technology in the Early Years”, hosted by The Erikson Institute and Columbia College in Chicago. We got to visit an amazing school called the Catherine Cook School. This school really embraces utilizing technological tools to enhance children’s learning.  A conversation with a preschool teacher at this school was a pivotal moment in motivating me to learn to code.  The teacher explained why using a visually linear calendar with children (depicts months as a single line of days, rather than blocked into a rectangle of weeks) provided support for “pre-coding” skills.  

This was really interesting to me, because I had heard of linear calendars, but never discussed in this way.  Some prekindergarten classrooms at Boulder Journey School (The school at which I work) use them.  For preschoolers who are just beginning to learn about time, it is often more logical to present days visually as a single line rather than in seven-day blocks. This does not mean you never get to the traditional blocked, stacked weeks calendar, but it is a more natural progression of learning. However, at this moment in 2013 I was simply amazed to hear someone make a connection between a single line of symbols and supporting a child’s ability to understand computer code later in life.  

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An example of a linear calendar, image source: http://bit.ly/1Epfela
A traditional calendar…This is the way we usually represent days and weeks, but why? Image Source: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/calendar.html
A traditional calendar…This is the way we usually represent days and weeks, but why?
Image Source: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/calendar.html

A slight diversion for those of you who don’t know:  “pre-” is what preschool teachers do (and it’s REALLY important!) Preschool teachers do not deliver formal reading instruction. They incorporate pre-literacy skills into what they teach. For example, understanding that letters have sounds, groups of letters are words, words have meaning, words can be grouped together to make sentences, etc. Children need to know all kinds of things about reading before they actually learn to read, and that is one thing preschool is for. Research shows that if children do not have opportunities to learn all this stuff, it is much harder for them to learn to read and is likely to make school harder for the rest of their lives.  Pre-math skills are just as important. Continue reading

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15 Things We Learned from “Hour of Code” 2014

This year’s Computer Science Education Week, December 8 – 14, 2014, was exciting. Millions of children and adults around the world tried coding and engaged in conversations about computer programming’s role in schools and society.

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As the dust settles, I am left wondering:

What did we learn?

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An Hour of Code with Young Friends, Part 2: Differentiated Instruction in Real Time

With one Hour of Code experience under my belt, I invited two more friends to code with me. I had explored only minimally in preparation for my previous experience, and was able to follow and support a fairly open-ended exploration by 10 year old Z. I was feeling much more brave before this second time, and was interested what it would be like to work with two children at the same time.

I invited two siblings, L and Q, to code with me. They both attend a public neighborhood school near their house in the Denver Metro Area. Their school employs a fairly traditional approach to education, incorporating computers and other technology as learning tools, balanced with common methods of teaching al subject matter. Here’s a little bit more about them as individuals:


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L is a ten year boy in fourth grade:

  • He lists his favorite subjects as P.E. and reading.
  • He is caring, thoughtful, and has been known to win awards at school for character and citizenship.
  • He is active and loves football.
  • He loves the rain and Seattle, aspiring to live there when he grows up.
  • He has a great sense of style, from mohawks to hipster glasses.

QQ is an eight year old girl in second grade:

  • She lists her favorite subjects as reading, math, and art.
  • She loves all things creative, and is an avid crafter.
  • Has a natural and powerful connection with animals. She is a loving caretaker to many furry creatures at her home.
  • Is naturally social and enjoys getting to know all kinds of different people.
  • Her last two Halloween costumes were “Cleopatra” and “movie star”…with the big personality to pull them off.

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Why Coding? Why Now?

Every person and every teacher must answer these questions for him or herself. To add to my full disclosure, I’ll just tell you a little bit about why I am a teacher learning to code. Maybe you will relate, maybe not. There are basically 4 reasons:

Reason #1: My husband (I know…it sounds like a silly reason, but just read on!)

That brain is always going...what does it DO?
That brain is always going…what does it DO?

My husband is a programmer, and I can honestly say that I never even knew what programming WAS until I met him 4 years ago. I still don’t, but I know a little bit more more now than I did when we met.  Sometimes I watch him work and it looks like madness to me…I watch him scroll back and forth between 3 or 4 different screens on his laptop, each with several open windows containing colors, letters, numbers, symbols, flashing, etc…I don’t understand any of it. It looks nuts! I am way less intimidated by the notion of learning to speak Korean!

Since I have this close relationship with a programmer, I’ve been able to learn a great deal about him in all areas of life, and our brains definitely work differently.  He’s a logical thinker. He likes neat, clean solutions to things and yes/no answers. I can’t stand being asked a yes/no question…I’m an educator whose primary goal is to provoke people to think for themselves.  I think that “wrong answers” exist in some situations, but I don’t really believe in definitive “right answers”… I believe in opinions and experiments and actions and consequences, and LEARNING.  I believe learning is messy…and programming LOOKS messy…but I suspect it’s a lot more neat and clean than it looks. (…but maybe not!)

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