Toddlers and Tweets? One Story of a Remarkable Educator

This post is part of a promotion of Alter Your World, an Alt Summit project aimed at celebrating actions, big or small, that focus on good in the community.

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We live in a world that reminds us of technology’s presence every day. We find ourselves continually wading through screens full of texts, tweets, emails, and moving pictures. At times overwhelming, it can be easy start to wonder if we should eject ourselves and our children from technology altogether.

I am more prone to wonder: 

What if we pull back from the debate about “whether or not” to expose children to media, and alternatively investigate “how” we can incorporate technology into meaningful learning experiences?

Danielle Charron is an extraordinary teacher who embraces this question in big ways. She is working on earning her Masters Degree and Early Childhood Teaching License through the Boulder Journey School Teacher Education Program. As part of this year-long program, Masters candidates spend a week studying world-renowned educational practices in Reggio Emilia, Italy. As Danielle prepared for this trip in March of 2015, she began to consider ways to stay connected to her class of toddlers. 

A child offered one way: 

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This child reminded Danielle of the natural empathy and keen awareness young children possess. Since the children were interested in her journey, Danielle wondered if she could use Twitter to invite them along and continue to engage as their teacher.

What she did next was simple, yet remarkable: 


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Danielle invited her class to follow her journey on Twitter, which offered: 

  • A way for Danielle to bring the classroom with her. 
  • A way for parents and children to share excitement and curiosity about their teacher’s adventure. 
  • A way for the children to engage with technology as a tool. 

Last but not least:

  • A way for the children, families, and co-teachers to travel along, asking new questions, engaging in new conversations, learning new things, and building deeper relationships along the way!

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T’s Mom shared: “T loved this and was excited to have me read your notes and talk about how they corresponded to the pictures. He especially loved seeing Crocodile (his imaginary friend). There was also one photo that showed a window shot of another building. This started a conversation about what we see out of windows and what you were seeing out the window on your trip. Thanks for allowing us all to follow along!”

When M gave Danielle the rock that sparked this story, he told her it was “for your trip”. When she returned to her physical classroom to share her stories in person, she showed M that his gift was still with her. 

“It went to Italy and all the way back here!”

Indeed, didn’t they all? I am in awe of Danielle for her willingness to embrace the possibilities that technology and social media offer!

When we spend time debating “whether or not” to accept technology into our lives with young children, we might just miss extraordinary learning opportunities like this.

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Best Practices for Teaching and Learning: Inspiration from David and Frances Hawkins

From the Hawkins Centers of Learning (HCoL) website:

Frances and David Hawkins were a husband and wife team of teacher and educational philosopher, whose work transcends time and place.  She was a teacher, deeply observant of children’s learning processes.  He drew upon her observations and writing to develop a philosophy of education, ranging from the specifics of the adult/child learning relationship to the higher domains of public education policy. Together, their writings informed a generation of education professionals, and programs, worldwide.

The ways children learn have not changed since Frances and David wrote during the latter half of the 20th century. Because their teaching approaches and theories are independent of transient technologies, they remain as cogent and universally applicable today as when they were written.

David began his career as a scientist and philosopher. Following his position as official historian of the Manhattan Project, (which developed the atomic bomb), he became extremely concerned with the forces that scientists had unleashed, and turned to education as a means of humanizing society. Among his intentions was to provide a framework in which children could develop sustained curiosity and excitement about nature and science.

David based much of his writing on a few central tenets: that children learn most deeply when they are following their natural curiosities; that teachers are best able to engage in the child’s curiosity-based learning when they too have engaged in like experiences; that children are naturally prepared for early science and math learning regardless of social class advantages, and that early literacy in science and math is the gateway both to most other subjects, and to an ethic of lifelong learning. His works are passionate proposals for curiosity-based learning, how adults can engage in it with children, and why educational systems should support it.

Read more here.

Hawkins Centers of Learning is an organization dedicated to extending the work David and Frances (who are now passed away), and bringing their work into the twenty-first century. The work of these two important educators has been hugely influential in my teaching (and learning) career, and I would like to dedicate space to sharing some of their big ideas and examining how their thinking can impact learning to code.

Messing About

Messing About is a three-phase cycle of teaching and learning proposed by David in his 1965 essay “Messing About with Science”, which I highly recommend, and can be found here. The three phases are:

Circle Phase: A time for unguided exploratory play and exploration of materials and ideas. The hands-on component is important here. For example, to learn about gravity, leaners might be offered a variety of ramps, tubes, balls, and wheels, and encouraged to explore the properties freely.

Triangle Phase: In this phase, a direction is chosen and explored more in-depth. For example, learners might create a goal of building a ramp that a ball can roll down continuously, but contains curvature so the ball’s path can end directly underneath where it started.

Square phase: In this phase, the ideas explored can be unpacked and discussed. For example, learners who explored rolling can reflect on challenges they faced and successes they experienced. They can discuss the scientific principles encountered and make plans for further explorations.

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What IS Coding? Gearing up for Computer Science Education Week & An Hour of Code

I sat at a Thanksgiving dinner table about a week and a half ago with a group of friends.  We were enjoying our feast and chatting about this and that. Since most of us at the table were either teachers, spouses of teachers, or children…you can imagine how our conversation kept drifting back to issues in education.  I started telling one friend about my goal of learning to code, and she asked a simple question:

“What IS coding anyway?”

This question provoked a little nervous tingle, as I realized this was the first time I had been asked to explain something about coding to another teacher. I had to stop, rewind my brain to just over two months ago when I started to explore this very question, and try to conceive an answer that would make sense to someone with the same background and lack of technical expertise as myself. My response was something like this:

“Coding is very basically giving your computer a set of instructions that you write in a programming language. The computer then responds by doing what you told it to do.”

I was relieved when this came out of my mouth and I realized that it largely made sense. This conversation also made me realize that could be important to spend some more time considering what that coding really is, and ponder some ways to synthesize and explain it to people who might not have any background, or might never have had any interest before. 

When I was first learning to code, I would Google things like “programming for beginners”, “what is coding?” and “learning to code”. My search efforts would return tons of great resources for people who already know a little bit about computers, and are not completely intimidated by words like “algorithm”. Many of the search results assume you know what a “console” is, are already comfortable with words like “variables” and “data types”, or what a “platform” is. If you don’t already know these things, do not worry about them! I think there is a level of beginner explanation that is just plain difficult to find. Just to be clear, I recognize that there are tons of great beginner resources out there…I just found myself wishing for an even more novice level of basic description. With this in mind, I’m going to attempt to offer my own supplement, and explain programming in a way that makes sense to me and might appeal to a broad array of non-programmers. 

This seems like a particularly relevant thing to do now, since this is Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 8 – 14). All this week, millions of children around the world will participate in “An Hour of Code“. This is a challenge to teachers, administrators, community members, and families to offer children “a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics.” Code.org is organizing and promoting this challenge, and they offer tons of great resources on their website. 

Note: Although some argue that there are differences, I use “coding” and “programming” interchangeably throughout this post in reference to “the act of writing computer programs”. 

Keep reading if:

  • You have ever wondered about coding/programming
  • You have never wondered about coding/programming (because it is never too late to start!)
  • You have tried to look up coding and programming before, and didn’t gain a whole lot of understanding
  • You do not consider yourself very tech-savvy or computer literate
  • You are curious about how someone who meets the above criteria might explain programming
  • You are curious what children are actually learning from beginner tutorials 

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Embracing My Beginners Mindset: Avoiding Overthinking

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Hello. My name is Lauren and I’m an over-thinker…I’ve been learning to program for 29 days.

I commented this week that it seems like the Ruby tutorials I’ve been working through are getting harder and it’s taking me longer to figure out write the code that’s prompted. I have recently realized that half of the time I’m completely overthinking, which just makes me laugh at myself.

For example, I spent 25 minutes trying to solve one particular prompt, trying all angles of writing the code only to result in error message after error message. I stuck with it, miserable yet determined, and eventually realized that I had simply read the prompt wrong.  The prompt was to add some code before the print command, and I was adding the code after. It turned out that I had correctly written the code the first time. Rather than going back and re-reading the instructions, I just spiraled down the rabbit hole…my code getting more and more complex with each try.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. I’ve noticed that the fewer angles I examine, the faster I’m able to complete the prompts. This is interesting to me, because it does not feel natural at all!   Continue reading

Should Everyone Learn to Code?

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Should everyone learn to code? Maybe, maybe not…but that is not exactly what I aim to debate on this blog (although I welcome the debate if it happens!)

I do, however, believe that every child should have a shot at understanding and learning about coding. Because of that, I’ve come to believe that in the not-too-distant future, teachers will need to know something about computer programming. We should know what code is, know how to write some of it, and know about the types of thinking it takes to successfully write code.

Why?

Because it will make us better teachers!  As our world becomes more and more computer-driven, there will be more and more conversations about computer programming.  More and more children will want to explore and learn coding. Should all those children be encouraged to become professional computer programmers?  Not necessarily, but their natural interests and curiosities around coding and computer programming should be encouraged and supported as they figure out whether or not programming is something they’d like to pursue.

Further, How can teachers support the interests and curiosities if they themselves have no idea what coding is or how it can be used?  We can sit children in front of computers with Hour of Code, or a Scratch tutorial, but if we ourselves don’t know what they are doing, how can we help and support them?  Are we really being good teachers?

I think much of the debate around “should everyone learn to code?” largely misses the point.   Continue reading