With the growing influence of technology in both the workplace and schools, STEM and coding education are becoming increasingly more important across all grade levels. STEM and coding foster skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, teamwork, and more. In this article, Rachelle Dené Poth shares various approaches to integrating coding and STEM-related learning into the classroom.
We are seeing the increased impact of technology in our world. Not only in the world of work but also in our schools. With emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence changing so rapidly and an increasing demand for a variety of skills that center on STEM and computer science, it's essential that students all have the opportunity to learn about the possibilities for their future related to these fields. A big part of STEM is coding, which is highly demanded in many areas of work. There are a lot of ways to help students learn about coding, develop skills, and to spark some interest and curiosity in it, not just when the Hour of Code happens in December but throughout the year.
STEM-related activities can be part of any grade level or content area being taught. It seems complex but it can really be just some simple activities! It's not just about learning the topics of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), it's about the skills that the students develop as a result of these activities. Some of those skills that are in demand for future careers, such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork, are just a few examples. These are skills that we all need in our personal and professional lives. Coding specifically helps to promote logical thinking and creativity and it can help students to build a variety of skills that will benefit them in the future regardless of what they do. Whether students explore coding through screen-free activities, online coding platforms, or robotics, there are many resources to choose from.
Even the youngest learners will be excited about STEM and coding in their classrooms. For elementary school teachers, early learners are always curious and have a lot of imagination, so I think this is the perfect time to start with some simple activities. Whether it's a robotics kit or a coding game in the classroom, give students a chance to explore with some hands-on STEM challenges or use tools like Scratch Jr. that enable students to create their own code. Set aside time to share and learn about what they have programmed and then ask them to think about how to improve it or build upon it. These activities can also foster more independent learning, boost student engagement, and be fun for all students. Using visual-based coding platforms like Scratch or interactive tools like Bee-Bots can help introduce coding concepts in a fun yet educational manner.
For middle school teachers, you can use the same types of activities as for younger students to understand coding concepts. It can be STEM challenges that don't involve any technology or have students build upon the earlier coding languages by advancing from Scratch Jr. for example, to Scratch or even Python. Students can go to sites likecode.org and create their own games or use a variety of other coding tools available to them to shift students from creators to innovators in the classroom. It's also a great way to promote collaboration between students and to get them working on teams, sharing ideas, and pushing through the struggles that can come with learning, especially if it's an advanced coding concept.
At the high school level, you don't have to be a computer science teacher to engage in coding activities. Regardless of the content area, students could choose a coding program to design an app or a game that represents what they have learned in their class. In addition to offering computer science courses, helping students to learn about careers where coding is an in-demand skill is also important. Connecting them with internships or mentoring in their community gives them real-world experiences and might just be something that sparks an interest in a future career.
In my classroom, we use a variety of different robots for students to learn about coding such as the Birdbrain Technologies Arduino and Hummingbird Robots. We have tested out the KIBO from KinderLab Robotics, which is a screen-free coding program that also has an AI lesson. Some other favorites are the Tale-bot Pro and VinciBot from Matatalab which my students really had fun trying out all of the functions. We have also used Ozobot and Sphero.
Newer to us this year has been the Kaibot. Kai's Education has some great robots that boost student creativity and collaboration while also helping them learn about augmented and virtual reality. There are many more choices out there. The key is just finding something that will be of interest and has great benefits for student learning, which can be from connecting it with the content but also giving them the chance to be creative and spark curiosity. Explore the K-12 Computer Science Curriculum available through Defined Learning.
In December, when the Hour of Code is held as a global initiative, the focus is always that anyone can learn to code regardless of age. It's a great time to dive into coding if you haven't yet because there are a lot of resources available, it's accessible and free for educators and it provides something for everyone. There are thousands of choices to explore.
For each grade level, students can use block-based coding to make games or animations, students might create a project using Scratch and share it with their classmates. Older students could create an app that solves a global issue, which is impactful for helping students develop global awareness and how they can design solutions to problems that are being faced around the world. With Defined Careers, students can learn more about the types of careers that are in demand for the future that require coding skills.
Even though it's called the “Hour of Code,” it's something that should be part of our school system throughout the year. The demand for skills in coding and STEM-related fields will continue to increase, and the best opportunity students have to learn about their potential interests and skills in these areas is in our classrooms. And we don't have to be experts. We just have to set them up with opportunities to explore and learn with and from them!
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s Next in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and Community Leader and served as president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021 and One of the 150 Women Thought Leaders to Follow for 2022.