Teaching Students
to Code Without Any
Coding Experience
September 17th 2019
Key Techniques to Engage 21st Century Students
If you read our last article Helping Students Futureproof Their Careers, there’s no doubt that the next generation of professionals need to be prepared for an increasingly tech-driven future. To enjoy the full benefits of a tech-driven economy, students need to know more than just how to use technology, but also how it works and how to create it. This is where learning to code comes in.
If you’re like most teachers, you’re no tech expert. So how are you to develop and implement tech education programs and curriculums without any training or experience? How do you teach your students to code when you can’t code yourself?
Previously, we highlighted a few pedagogies used in current educational programs and software that will help you to do exactly this. They are,:
  • Self-Directed Learning is where students, with guidance from the teacher, decide what and how they will learn. It can be done individually or as a group, but the overall concept is that students chart the course of their learning.
  • Microlearning is a holistic approach for skills-based learning and education, delivered via relatively small learning units. It involves short-term-focused strategies especially designed for skills-based understanding.
  • Gamification is an educational approach that motivates students to learn by using video game design and game elements in learning environments.
  • Contextual learning takes place when teachers present information in such a way that students are able to construct meaning based on their own experiences.
  • Project-based learning is a student-centered pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach where students gain deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.
  • Blended learning is an approach that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with traditional place-based classroom methods.
  • Hacker spaces/Maker spaces are collaborative workspaces inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools.
  • Microdentials are like mini-degrees or certifications in a specific topic area, which can be broad or narrow, such as Machine Learning (broad) and Web Design with HTML (narrow).
So many options, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. How do you choose one that works for your students? And more importantly, how would you apply them in a coding class?
Well, you don’t have to!
The Ideal Coding Software
girls laughing
There are a variety of coding software programs that do it for you. Most of them combine several of the pedagogies we identified into a tailored online curriculum. From Tynker to Codecademy, we are spoilt for choices. However, we end up with the same question: Which one?
Let’s put together a picture of The Ideal Coding Software:
It provides a self-directed curriculum that allows your students to learn how to code independently, without having to rely on you as the expert.
In order not to overwhelm your students, courses must break down topics into small units to facilitate microlearning.
Given the short attention spans of today’s students, lessons and exercises should be gamified to capture and maintain engagement, while providing them with practical, real-world skills through project-based learning.
Any lesson must also present material in such a way that the student can readily relate it to their understanding of the world through contextual learning.
Furthermore, programs must integrate seamlessly into your lesson plans to create a blended learning environment.
Should the program fulfill this criteria, it gives you the option to encourage student-led projects or entrepreneurship through hacker spaces/maker spaces and allow the students to gain micro-credentials for each coding course taken (and perhaps even yourself if you learn alongside them!).
Now that you know what to look for, let’s take a look at what’s currently available on the market.
There are two types of coding programs
Visual block platforms or ‘blockly’ code
Students drag and drop blocks of prewritten code to complete exercises. Highly visual and interactive, this method was conceived from the belief that manual writing or typing of code is an impediment to learning. However, this method does not teach students to write their own code and is quickly outgrown due to its lack of answer flexibility.
Programs like this: Scratch, Tynker, Codeavengers.
Text-based coding:
Students learn how to code by reading instructions, watching PowerPoint lectures and typing out code to complete exercises. This method is most like traditional teaching and does not provide students with real-life context. A greater level of discipline is required for student progress as this method can make coding seem intimidating and overly abstract.
Programs like this: Codecademy, Codesters, CodeHS.
But is there a third option?
girls coding
While some programs, like CodeHS and Codeavengers, attempt to overcome their limitations, they are unable to do it consistently and still fulfill the criteria of The Ideal Coding Software.
However, imagine a program that can take the strengths of these two methods and overcome their limitations, while meeting the criteria of The Ideal Coding Software.
Cinematic animated videos in every lesson present and break down abstract concepts through stories and characters to maintain engagement and provide situational context to students. This way, students will not only learn what information is being taught, but also why it is relevant.
Students are then given the chance to interact with the stories and characters through code. An extensive library of bite-sized, gamified projects allow students to practice writing real code without becoming overwhelmed. Upon completion, an intelligent code validation system checks their answer and provides instant feedback. University educators collaborate with the developers to create a tailored curriculum equivalent to what is taught in a Bachelor of Computer Science suitable for kids.
A plug-and-play program that enables any institution to start code clubs or maker spaces.
Although we aren’t perfect either, providing students with an effective alternative is what we strive to do. Click here to find out how.
About This Series
We started this series of blog articles to help instructors, facilitators and educators plan, run and teach STEM classes or programs more effectively. Lessons should be as enjoyable and engaging for the teacher as the student. We hope that the topics we cover will provide you with some new ideas, insights and tools to create a truly immersive learning environment for your students.
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