Creating a Responsive Learning Environment to Teach Coding
With coding being a relatively new addition to many classrooms across the province, there continues to be much work that needs to be done in order to reach equity and inclusion. Many families value mathematics and literacy as the core foundations of education, and therefore place a large amount of emphasis on these subjects. However, many parents were not formally taught coding throughout their formal education, and therefore may be unaware of its inclusion and importance within the mathematics curriculum. It is important to explain to parents and students the “relevance and meaning in what they are learning, to make real-life connections to the curriculum” (Ontario Mathematics Curriculum, 2020, pg. 48). This involves first explaining what coding is (a digital language that tells electronic devices what to do), then explaining where it is used in their daily lives (virtually every electronic device that they use), and finally highlighting the purpose of learning it. Once students are aware of what coding is and why they should learn it, they will feel more included and invested in their learning.
As with all subject areas, it is of utmost importance that our students are represented in what they are learning. “Educators have an obligation to develop and nurture learning environments that are reflective of and responsive to students’ strengths, needs, cultures, and diverse lived experiences, and to set appropriate and high expectations for all” (Ontario Mathematics Curriculum, 2020, pg. 48). When we provide an open forum for students to showcase their coding skills, they can organically represent themselves in their work. For example, when asking students to code a scene on a program like Scratch, students can choose a sprite (a character) that looks like them and adjust the scene in which the sprite is shown. This provides ample opportunity for students to integrate their culture into their work and create a media that represents them.
Coding is typically a new concept that students begin exploring at school before they do so at home, especially with it being included in the mathematics curriculum starting in Grade 1. This puts most students on an equal playing field as they begin learning this concept. However, over time, as students with regular access to technology begin to explore these themes at home, the potential performance gap may continue to widen. This highlights the need to provide equitable access to technology to our students, especially for concepts that can be heavily technology focused, such as coding. It also challenges us as educators to find ways in which we can help develop coding skills with students without relying on technology. One solution that educators can implement in situations where the access to technology is limited is unplugged coding. Unplugged coding activities can provide students with examples of coding that they can continue to practice without the need of a device, such as games and crafts. Kodable offers many unplugged coding activities that would be a hit with students: https://www.kodable.com/learn/unplugged-coding-activities/.
Unfortunately, access to technology is not the only area of inequality that needs to be addressed in order to create a responsive learning environment. Studies show that the percentage of women that fill computer science jobs continues to decline, falling at only 24% in 2017 (GirlsWhoCode.com). This indicates a large inequality in this sector of mathematics and science. A way that my teacher colleagues and I could promote coding equity and inclusion on a school-wide scale would be to create and facilitate a coding club for female students. This club could be facilitated informally, but offering drop-in times for students to practice their coding skills and have access to the school’s technology. It could also be run more formally structured by offering tutorials and lessons to truly deepen their understanding of coding concepts and providing them with the opportunity to develop these skills in a safe and fun environment. There are many resources available online to begin a coding club, such as Girls Who Code (https://girlswhocode.com/get-involved/start-a-club).
By being aware and truly understanding the potential inequalities that are associated with coding, we are in a position where we can work together as a teaching staff to address these concerns. Ensuring that every student has access to technology may be a challenge, however, there are steps that we can take to ensure every student has access to learning opportunities, such as unplugged coding activities or coding clubs. My hope is that by addressing these inequalities, we can create culturally responsive learning environments that support all students!