Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Teach Coding? Same Reasons to Teach Writing Even When Not All Students Will Be Writers

Students using Robot Turtles to learn coding.
According to the team at, computing is “a fundamental part of daily life, commerce, and just about every occupation in our modern economy.” Across the country and around the world, there is a growing call to action for educators, insisting that it is essential that students are exposed to the field of computer science because it is foundational in transforming the way a student thinks about the world in a way that is unique to the 21st Century landscape. Computer science not only teaches students about technology, it also teaches them how to think differently about any problem. In a December 2017 interview, Mitch Resnick, MIT professor and one of the creators of Scratch, was asked whether or not coding should be required in every single public school. He answered as follows:
If it were up to me, I would introduce it. But I want to be careful because I don’t want to embrace it for the same reason that some people might. The first question I would ask is: “Why should we learn coding at all?” Many people embrace coding in schools as a pathway to jobs as computer programmers and computer scientists, and of course they’re right that those opportunities are expanding rapidly. But that’s not a great reason for everyone to learn how to code.
Very few people grow up to be professional writers, but we teach everyone to write because it’s a way of communicating with others—of organizing your thoughts and expressing your ideas. I think the reasons for learning to code are the same as the reasons for learning to write. When we learn to write, we are learning how to organize, express, and share ideas. And when we learn to code, we are learning how to organize, express, and share ideas in new ways, in a new medium. (Source)
Students using BeeBots to learn to code.
The Tonka Codes program gives all of our students in Minnetonka these opportunities. In Minnetonka, the Big Idea designed in 2013-14 and launched in 2014-15 called Tonka <codes> has tested the hypothesis that computer programming and computer science can succeed as core content at the elementary grades and can prosper as a series of elective courses at the secondary level. As the District continues its fourth year of implementation, the results of the test continue to show positive data based on both student performance and student interest. Tonka <codes> is also a program that provides Minnetonka students with the training and support to make a significant contribution in the 21st Century marketplace.

Students using
Want to learn more? Last week we presented an update to our School Board about the Tonka <codes> program. Associate Superintendent Eric Schneider, Teacher Leaders Andrea Hoffmann and Lisa Reed and I spoke about the 2017-18 scope and sequence through the grades, the progress made in elementary schools, the impact on Middle School STEM, Core Content Areas and High Potential Programs, and the current and new High School courses. We also spoke about the impact of The Hub, makers and coders spaces in the elementary and middle schools and highlighted some of the projects students had completed. You can watch the full presentation here

Related posts:

Monday, January 8, 2018

More Tips for Successful 1:1 Programs: Ongoing Teacher Sharing, Dialog, Reflection & Colleague Observations

One of the reasons I believe our 1:1 program has been successful is because of our ongoing, sustained professional development, which I've written about in the past. We are now in the seventh year of 1:1, and still providing all of our teachers with about 9 hours annually of professional development related to technology. Whether teachers are in their first or seventh year teaching students with 1:1 devices, they attend multiple training sessions per year. 

Learning to use the device itself is simple, as is learning how to use it in education to move from traditional paper and pencil environments to a digital document cycle. That part doesn't require ongoing training. The reason we do provide continual staff development for our teachers is to help them use technology in ever new and innovative ways to deepen learning for students and make it more meaningful. (See Beyond SAMR Ladders and Pools: A Framework for Teaching & Learning)

As part of our trainings with 1:1 teachers, we have found it beneficial to provide them with time to share ideas with one another and talk through issues, whether we are meeting with a group of new or experienced teachers. Originally we called these conversations Roses & Thorns (what was going well and what is not). More recently some of our instructional technology coaches have called it Roses, Buds & Thorns, adding the sharing of a growth area/goal to the conversation.

Our high school instructional technology coaches have called these meetings "Roundtables." Two past roundtable sessions I attended are pictured.  During the first year teachers are in a 1:1 implementation the roses and thorns shared at these sessions tend to be about logistics and classroom management. After teachers are more experienced and comfortable with 1:1 teaching and learning, the topics and ideas shared become much more complex and creative, as teachers share innovative lesson ideas and ways they have used technology to redefine teaching and learning. Making time for the sharing of these ideas is a great way to spread the wealth of information and experience they collectively have and move your program further forward. We have grouped teachers in a variety of ways besides experience; sometimes teachers have been grouped by subject or grade levels, too. During the share time all ideas are documented so teachers can revisit them afterwards.

Besides sharing ideas with one another, we have also had teachers go out and observe colleagues. I mentioned this in a past post, too. Most recently, our high school instructional technology coaches dedicated 20 minutes of a training session to classroom observations. They asked teachers to visit about three classrooms for around five minutes each, with only one class in their own department. Afterwards they regrouped and debriefed. Teachers shared what they noticed about instruction, student engagement, and the use of technology. 

This process of ongoing sharing, dialog, reflection and colleague observation is one of the keys to our success and growth of our 1:1 program. You can learn more about our it, iPads, and use of technology for learning in the additional related posts below:

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Resolution: Spend Quality, Influential Time in Relationships

Weeks of influence in a child's life before high school graduation.

Happy New Year!

I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions since I was a kid. Most of the time, I follow through with them and have implemented changes that have stuck for the long term. Years ago I would write them down on a sheet of paper or Post It Note. More recently I have been keeping the list on my phone. Sometimes I’ll even add to this list of resolutions to be considered for the following year. Maybe that’s extreme, but I guess I share this to simply point out that I take resolutions seriously. Last year I had five, and have done each fairly well for the past year that I've made the changes into habits.

For this year, one of my resolutions is to focus on spending quality time in my relationships with others. I'm not intending to simply increase time spent with others, but focusing on making it quality. First and foremost, I am thinking of my own family. As our oldest daughter is now a senior in high school, we are faced with the reality of how little time we have left with her under our roof as part of our daily interactions as a family. I know people say time flies, but it’s hard to imagine that when you have a toddler or younger kids. Now as our daughter decides on a college and her future, I not only want to spend more quality time with her before she’s gone but focus on doing the same with our other three kids and my wife, too.

Recently at church the youth leaders had a display of marbles in a jar representing four different aged kids (see photo above). Each marble equaled how many weeks of influence we have on our kids before high school graduation. It really struck me seeing this limited time represented visually. I think the display was extra meaningful as three out of the four sample jars of marbles displayed were the exact ages of my own children. As I reflect on spending quality time with others, I'm thinking about making it influential time. Not that every moment has to be memorable, but I hope by making the effort to spend more time, make it quality, and be focused on our time together it will be meaningful.

I'm resolving to spend more quality time in my relationships with others beyond my family, too. I hope to strengthen relationships with friends and co-workers, making more effort to spend time together, even scheduling it. As part of making this happen with both friends and family, I will continue my efforts to limit digital distractions that I've written about in the past, such as my 2015 Resolutions: 3 Ways to Cut Back on Digital Distractions. Over the past years I've shared those tips often and have had so many people tell me they, too, have found this advice so beneficial. If you haven't done so yourself, please try it!

Many other posts I've made related to having a healthy balance in our lives around our use of technology can be good New Year's Resolutions, too. Check them out: