Perspectives on Coding: A Conversation with Ms. Laura Dixon, Technology and Innovation Teacher

What exactly is the “Hour of Code?”

The Hour of Code started as a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify “code,” to show that anybody can learn the basics, and to broaden participation in the field of computer science. It has since become a worldwide effort to celebrate computer science, starting with one-hour coding activities and expanding to all sorts of community efforts.

The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, which is typically the first week of December. The Hour of Code has now become a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. Langley students of all ages have participated in the Hour of Code each year since 2014. To learn more, visit https://hourofcode.com.

 

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Preparing Our Students for Their Digital Futures

by Brad Lands, Director of Technology

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” -John Dewey

It’s not surprising that we currently live in a world that is highly unpredictable and constantly evolving. It’s not surprising that technology seems to be exponentially increasing and global issues seem to be getting more complicated. What is surprising, however, is the fact that we as educators have to prepare our students for a future in which they will become productive and contributing members in this world.

Our role

Gone are the days where educators stand and deliver information and have students memorize basic facts that they might need to use some day. Students can easily perform a quick Google search on a mobile device to find this information. In today’s world, our job is to help our students become creative, critical thinkers who can learn how to access and use the world’s information to help them solve complex problems.

Traditional models of education require students to solve problems for which we know the solutions. One example is providing students with multiple-choice assessments. Alternatively, we as educators need to engage students in curriculum via inquiry-based learning, where students are empowered to ask their own questions and tackle problems for which the solutions are unknown. More importantly, we need to allow our students to struggle with these learning tasks, encourage them to troubleshoot, and praise their efforts when they persevere.

Technology at Langley

How do we do this?

Below are just a few of the inquiry-based projects in which Langley students have taken part this year:

20time Project Elective: In this Middle School elective, students are empowered to choose what they want to learn about, and are strongly encouraged to select challenging topics that have a real purpose outside of the classroom. This course is modeled after Google’s 20% time. Embedded in Google’s corporate culture is the concept of allowing engineers to take on independent projects. This unofficial policy lets them invest 20 percent of their work time on self-led explorations to solve real problems. Throughout Langley’s course, our students simulate this workplace experience by using the power of technology to identify problems, ask meaningful questions, pitch project proposals, develop solutions, present their ideas, and iterate their solutions. In other words, this course is designed to encourage the kind of “moonshot” thinking required to create novel solutions to unsolved problems, thereby helping to prepare students for future-ready innovation.

STEAM Challenge: Earlier this month, Langley fourth-graders engaged in a week-long STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) workshop where they experimented with physical computing. They learned about electricity, circuits, and computer programming by creating their own interactive monster. Students were tasked with sewing a monster out of felt and using electronic components such as LED lights, mini-speakers, a circuit board, and conductive thread in order to program the monster to output light and sound. Moreover, students were able to make their monster unique by choosing different colors, sizes, shapes, and creative code patterns. As they problem-solved and worked together, students not only learned about computer programming, but also developed valuable life skills such as persistence, flexible thinking, and collaboration.

Hour of Code: In celebration of Computer Science Education week, Langley students from all three school divisions completed Hour of Code activities. For many of our Primary and Lower School students, this was their first exposure to computer programming and they really enjoyed it. These computer programming activities varied from basic directional coding, to block coding, to text-based coding in many different computer programming languages. Even though the activities were different for each school division, all students engaged in challenging, critical thinking in order to complete each activity. The best thing about these activities was that there were multiple ways to complete them. Students were able to be creative in their critical thinking in order to solve each of the challenges, demonstrating that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

STEAM Fair: Langley’s first STEAM Fair will be held on Saturday, February 6, 2016. This is a very exciting event for the Langley community because it not only raises awareness about the importance of STEAM education in our world today, but also highlights Langley’s effort and dedication to teach our students to become creative problem-solvers. This family event is open to all students in preschool through grade 8 and will showcase how students interact with STEAM education at Langley. The STEAM Fair will include a display area of student work, open Lego play, technology demonstrations, a STEAM Book Nook, and hands-on activities for families. This is the perfect opportunity for both parents and students to learn, play, think, and have fun while exploring STEAM education at Langley.

So what’s next?

If we want our students to become independent, lifelong learners, then we need to continue to implement these critical learning opportunities at Langley – opportunities that allow our students to be naturally curious and work together to solve complex problems, that allow them to use technology to access information and creatively communicate their understanding, and that value the process more than the product. If we can continue to provide our students with this type of innovative education, then we are on the right track to preparing them for their future in the digital age.

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The Hidden Power of Sixth-Grade STEM Week

By Kathleen Smith, Assistant Head of School

Thomas Edison famously said of creating the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Experts in the field of education are currently researching and writing furiously about the “gift of failure” and the power it has to unlock creativity and innovation in our students. In his 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled “The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure,” Peter Sims reminds us that “the odds are you were never, at any point in your educational or professional career, given permission to fail,” which puts us at risk of “disempowering yourself from exercising your inherent creativity.”

STEM WeekWe all agree that allowing for failure and growth and creating opportunities for students to be creative and innovative is essential to the development of their intellectual and moral character, of course. Now comes the hard part, if you’re a parent or an educator. At a primal level, we don’t really want our students to fail. Failure, despite all of its current good press, is often very painful. So how do we reconcile what’s in our heads and what’s in our hearts when we are dealing with young children and adolescents?

STEM WeekFirst, we reframe our definition of “failure” and internalize the idea that failure does not have to be a catastrophic endeavor. Second, we scaffold these opportunities so that students develop resilience over time and do not fall apart the moment they encounter a challenge. The sixth-graders’ recent STEM-immersion experience – a week during which they were encouraged to embrace failure and try, try again as they explored the world of bioplastics and polymers – provided exactly such an opportunity. The week-long chemical engineering workshop, developed by i2 Learning and researchers at Boston’s Museum of Science, challenged students to investigate, imagine, plan, create, test, improve, and communicate as they created bouncy balls, silly putty, and their own bioplastics. Reading the students’ reflections on their experiences was fascinating; they wrote not with frustration, but with joy about their failures and their perseverance when conducting attempt after attempt.
One sixth-grader wrote: “My best memory of STEM week was probably when I made the
car out of bioplastic. My group worked together really well, and we accomplished our goal. On the first try, we thought that we had made our mold perfectly. When we tried to put the pencils in, it just broke in half and we had to try again. On the second try, we made the base thicker and we made the wheels a lot bigger. It seemed like it would work, but the wheels wouldn’t harden and when we put the pencils in, it broke in half again. On the third try, we couldn’t make new bioplastic, so we used half of the second base and cut it into a circle. We had two wheels, so we melted our shavings down to more bioplastic. One of my group members had brought skewers instead of pencils, so we stuck those in and put the wheels on. It rolled!”

What a shame it would have been for one of my colleagues or me to step in with “TheSTEM Week
Answer” to these children’s questions as they puzzled through their initial “failures.” Encouraging students to ask their own questions – guided by faculty who embraced the open-ended, inquiry-based approach of the week – was essential to developing their intellectual toughness and grit. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer observed that questions “are the engines of intellect – cerebral machines that convert curiosity into controlled inquiry.” In keeping with our professional development focus on inquiry-based learning this year, faculty feedback about the program centered on the need to continue to provide opportunities for students to practice this “controlled inquiry” throughout their years at Langley, for them to formulate questions and tough it out with scaffolded teacher support. Such practice begins to impart to students that failure is not just okay, but necessary. The world will not end if something doesn’t go right the first time. When students push past that 10,000th try that “doesn’t work” and come up with their working light bulb, they will have achieved something personally and intellectually meaningful. And all of the failures will have been worth it.

We are thrilled to be offering another intensive STEM week this year! Our fourth-graders will investigate the world of programming during their workshop, “Building a Friendly, Interactive Monster,” coming in January!

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