Is coding the ’21st century writing’?

Last week I attended a professional learning day where I was introduced to Code Club Australia, a network of coding clubs for Aussie Kids aged 9 – 11 which uses ScratchIan Wedlock facilitated the day and I was impressed with his calm but assured belief in the learning benefits associated with coding. As part of his presentation he:

  • Asked participants to “think origami – follow sequential instructions and be precise.”
  • Reminded us of instances when programming goes wrong by showing The Breakfast Machine and The Lipstick Machine. Quite funny.
  • Introduced us to Rube Goldberg machines which “require all the coding skills without the technology”. 

Whilst sharing these and other resources, Ian confirmed that coding, in particular Scratch, allows students to program interactive stories, games and animations which requires them to think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively; all important 21st century skills.

The discourse around coding in schools is, in part, prompted by predictions that 40 to 55% of current jobs will be made redundant by technology within the next 10 years. In a world where robots could be performing one third of U.S. surgeries by 2021 and where a robot arm builds a house in just two days, future jobs will increasingly require employees to create and program those robots. Coding is a good starting point for that to be a possibility for a significant number of our young people.

Matt Resnick articulates the benefits of coding for young people in Let’s Teach Kids to Code (16 mins). With reference to Scratch he outlines the benefits of coding for young people code so they can do more than just use new tech toys; they can also create them. However, what resonates with me the most are the analogies Resnick makes with reading and writing.

Firstly, he points out that it is useful for everyone to read and write, and whilst these skills will be useful in almost everything not everyone will become a professional writer or resident book reviewer. And so it is with coding. When people learn to code they simplify complex ideas, collaborate, fix things and persevere in the face of frustration, that’s called resilience! Such skills and dispositions will be transferrable to almost all aspects of future work.

And secondly, Resnick reminds the viewer that the actions of browsing, chatting, texting and gaming do not make young people digitally fluent. For those who can use technology applications to ‘create’, they are digitally fluent. However, for those who cannot, “It is almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies.”

As I tweeted during the day with Ian,

Maybe I got that a little wrong.  So before publishing this blog, I tweeted….

Tweet 2

As always, I welcome your comments.


A little more reading… “Meet the entrepreneurs who want to teach your child to code


3 thoughts on “Is coding the ’21st century writing’?

  1. In Secondary we are doing quite a bit through Tech Mandatory in 7/8 with robotics and IT as well as the iSTEM elective in Year 9 which has taken off strongly. I’d be keen to hear where else teachers have used coding in secondary. Old syllabuses and a school review bearing down on us is restricting willingness to innovate by many teachers. Your key point is a valid one. I also note that Scratch precludes some devices e.g. chromebooks which are an economic option for many families. All issues we can overcome but useful to know. Our robotics was kicked off in partnership with Macquarie Uni who initially donated the hardware to get it started. We’ve also been able to link in with feeder schools who are right into it also. Terrific!

    1. Hi Chris,
      In relation to your question about teachers using coding in secondary, I am a LOTE teacher and this term I will be doing a coding project with my new Year 8 Italian class (Beginners Italian). My students will be creating a short animation (or a series of mini-episodes, if working in groups) in Italian using the programming language Scratch.
      When I teach Italian to beginners I get them to focus on what I call “language learning principles”: identifying patterns, adapting model sentences, and building on prior knowledge. With this project I want my students to see the connection between learning a foreign language and learning to code, and I want them to adopt these language learning principles as they concurrently learn both Italian and Scratch.
      Students will have to complete two (simpler) hurdle tasks in Scratch before they commence their animation (a simple Scratch game and an interactive story), to help them gradually acquire the skills and knowledge (in both Scratch and Italian) required for the final task.
      I’d would also love to hear how educators in other subjects are using coding in their classes.

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