Thursday, June 25, 2015

Math + Coding Symposium

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Math + Coding Symposium at Western University. It was a three day event filled with lively discussions, opportunities to 'make' and play, as well as keynotes by expert in the field. These experts included Celia Hoyles, Richard Noss, and Yasmin B. Kafai. For more information on the outline of the symposium as well as detailed descriptions of the keynote addresses please click on the link:

Throughout the weekend, three main themes emerged for me:
- Coding as Literacy
- Computational Thinking and Mathematical Processes
- Energizing and Supporting the Grassroots Movements in Ontario

In her keynote address, Dr. Yasmin Kafai discussed how understanding code relates to our abilities to contribute and connect in today's society on functional, political, and personal levels. In this way, viewing coding as an essential literacy skill in order to interact meaningfully in the world. The video below by highlights this point quite clearly. It occurred to me that devices surrounding us today such as iPads are the least powerful my students will use. They are accustomed to the high prevalence of devices in society and have come to expect their use for daily tasks. With this knowledge, I begin to comprehend the importance for my students to not be passive users, but active makers and knowledgeable consumers in the digital world. If my goal as an educator is to inspire and engage tomorrow's difference makers - this component cannot be overlooked. 

Dr. Kafai also introduced the idea of "Computational Participation". That is coding is not an individualistic act (the stereotypical visualization of young male working solo at a computer), but communal practice. It's the social networks of DIY digital makers interested in creating and sharing in new and innovative ways. Since this keynote, I have been looking more closely at starting a Coding Club in September at my school. Although I do feel strongly that coding should also be explored by all in the classroom, I think an after school social club would allow students to delve deeper into digital making. It would be my hope that students participating in the club could support other teachers and students as well.

"The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future."

What is Computational Thinking?
This is a question that really stumped me at first. Google for Education defines computational thinking as "...a problem solving process that includes a number of characteristics, such as logically ordering and analyzing data and creating solutions using a series of ordered steps (or algorithms), and dispositions, such as the ability to confidently deal with complexity and open-ended problems. CT is essential to the development of computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines, including math, science, and the humanities. Students who learn CT across the curriculum can begin to see a relationship between subjects as well as between school and life outside of the classroom."

Comparison between Mathematical Processes
and Computational Thinking Processes.
After discussing with other symposium participants and examining the ISTE Operational Definitions, I couldn't help but recognize the links with the mathematical processes defined in the Ontario Curriculum. Verbs such as representing, solving, transferring, analyzing, finding solutions, are woven throughout both. I have come to see how coding can help students make sense of challenging mathematical concepts by making thinking transparent through multiple representations. An example of this was demonstrated in the keynote by Celia Hoyles and Richard Noss. They asked participants to think about and discuss the definition of a circle. Afterwards, they showed a simulation created using Scratch that involved the creation of a circle from a fixed point with sprites. This representation highlighted the key concepts in a visual and concrete way, allowing for the often intangible to become much more clear. As I venture into the intermediate division from primary, I can see how coding can support students in representing definitions in meaningful ways.

The notion of "objects-to-think-with" as described by Papert extends to "objects-to-share-with" as well. Students have the ability to think through mathematical concepts using coding and also share their representations and creations with others - affirming and provoking further thinking by others.

A symposium attendee described coding in a way that resonated with me:
Coding as a CATALYST to a new way of thinking.
Maybe it's less about the tool and technology and more about supporting and developing a higher level of thinking. Thinking that requires formulating solutions to open-ended questions derived from real world applications. Thinking that translates into new creations and possibilities. Thinking that contributes to the greater good.

The process of this learning is what matters most. Recognizing the importance of iteration and developing the ability to "bounce-forward" when faced with setbacks.

Over the course of the weekend, I met with energetic, dedicated educators and researchers passionate about integrating digital making into mathematics education. This opportunity to connect and share was so valuable. As someone new to coding I learned a great deal about the why and how to coding in the classroom. Before attending the symposium I had experimented with Tynker with my Grade 2 students and had begun exploring Scratch. My experiences minimal to say the least, As a rookie coder I know I have a lot to learn (requiring time and persistence which I hope the summer provides). I also know the importance of community - I made tremendous gains over the weekend due to the support of others. This needs to be considered when addressing change. The community and culture we create is essential. Currently, coding and digital making is occurring in Ontario at a very grassroots level. It is happening behind closed doors within a smattering of classrooms. Small pockets of educators are beginning to connect and share best practice. It can be isolating at times. I am grateful for my social network of educators who are happy to hear about and support my journey.

I had the delightful opportunity to learn from and with Lisa Floyd. She introduced me to the concept of CS Unplugged activities which I tried Monday with my students. She shared fabulous resources to help get me started: Lisa Floyd's Slide Deck and resources
It is educators like Lisa who are truly difference-makers.

CS Unplugged The importance of developing logical thinking skills through unplugged activities.

As part of our working group, we brainstormed how best to facilitate professional development for teachers. Outreach between Faculties of Ed and school boards as a means of sharing knowledge.
Goal: Design a module on coding+math for teachers/students informed by theory/research/teacher experience/computer science.
Here is some of our thinking:
Module Format: Explore - Tinker - Remix using Scratch
Trajectories: building blocks for future applications
What concepts are accessible? What concepts are springboards to future learning?

As for a larger scale of implementation, I believe we can learn a lot from the new coding curriculum in UK. This top down approach has undoubtedly had its challenges, but the forward thinking nature of its design will facilitate change.  I am looking forward to hearing about results from Celia Hoyles and Richard Noss' ScratchMaths study in the future.

How do you believe we can best integrate coding into the classroom in Ontario? What resources have you found most helpful? If you have any comments, suggestions, questions please add your thoughts below. 

RESOURCES: resources for students and educators as well as hour of code activities
Gapminder: statistics to provoke student thinking
CS Unplugged: Unplugged coding activities to incorporate computational thinking without computers
Google CS First: Getting started guide for Coding Clubs (quite comprehensive)
Tynker: interactive games and activities to introduce block code (perfect for students new to coding - easy entry)

How To Code in Schools: Wired article - reflections on introduction of coding in UK curriculum
Computing at School (UK Curriculum)
Flow state through LightBot

Scratch Resources:
Introductory Lessons
Blocks/Scripts You Might Use In Games
Mathematical Functions Done in Scratch

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