Monday, August 18, 2014

Primary Teachers: Learn Coding Fundamentals in an Hour

If you have heard about the hour of code, I hope you saw this coming from the title.  If you don't know about the hour of code, it is time.   Code.org wants to support everybody everywhere in learning to code.  They are organizing all kinds of people to create tutorials that can be used in schools to get kids coding, even if it is just for a one hour guided activity.
When I work with teachers new to coding I always recommend the tutorials at code.org/learn.  Today we are going to look at a couple if these tutorials and call out the important concepts they teach.  Hopefully by the end of this you will feel comfortable enough with the tutorials to but an hour in and see what you know about coding at the end of it.
The first tutorial at code.org/learn is a great introduction to block based coding using the characters from angry birds and plants vs zombies.  This is a browser based coding experience and it works on the iPad.  Jump right in by clicking go and notice that there are three main areas of the screen.  On the right there is the compose field, this is your active program.  Your available commands are visible in a library near the center of the screen and the instructional and preview panel is in the far left.
In the course of this tutorial you will learn how to manipulate the code blocks, how to start a program and "repeat-loops, conditionals, and basic algorithms."  These three concepts will be your foundation of programming logic.  We will be exploring these tools in the code.org tutorial before we discuss their definition.  This might seem counter intuitive in a world where we ask students to look up vocabulary words before reading, but this is bigger than knowing a definition.  Through the tutorial you will experience creating loops and you will see the resulting economy of expression.  Programming is a language and you will begin by composing simple messages, you will learn the syntax by creating simple texts.  As you learn, explore.  Don't rush through the code.org tutorial, watch the videos.  When it asks if you want to see the lines of code you have written, say yes!  Take a screenshot, see if you can understand how the lines of JavaScript and blocks of code relate to each other.
Even though we can do so many things at the same time, allow yourself an hour of just coding time.  This is work, there are big ideas at play here.  Although it is hard, I silence my phone and shut my extra tabs.  I rarely work with one window open.  I do take note by using the screen shot function often. I delete the pictures often, but it serves as a great reference of later, especially if I am sharing the information with other teachers from my site.  As I work, I often have to close Facebook or Twitter, they seem to open themselves.  I do set a timer on my iPad and I try to stay focused and work till the bell.  At the end. I page through the screen shots and see what I learned.  
At the end of your first hour of code. I want you to be able to explain the three foundational concepts in your own words.  I want you to have a ready answer to help your students better understand these concepts when your students encounter them.