April 22, 2015 psweeze

Where does coding fit in the classroom? Part 2 #EastCoastEd

As I reflect back on the Canada Wide Science Fair now, I can distinctly see tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and innovators together in one space; showcasing the ideas and products that will be the backbone of our economy. I remember the last night we held the closing ceremonies and I had the great fortune of being seated at a table with several students from a school in Toronto. After the introductions the students were curious about the projects that had brought them to such a prestigious event. One project that stood out amongst the crowd was a project that I wish I had to foresight to record. This was my game changer, the TSN turning point. When he started his explanation I thought I was getting an elevator pitch, as if I was an investor. This kid was on. He didn’t care who I was, he’d practiced this pitch and recited it as if it were wrote memory.

The project in question wasn’t anything revolutionary, but the process by which he attacked it, and the methodology behind it was nothing short of inspirational. It was a dating site. A simple dating site. But the architecture behind it was what was incredible. He created a site that leveraged the user traits and characteristics of Twitter. Essentially, he designed his own algorithm that defined twitter users personalities based upon their tweets, and then used that algorithm to pair people with compatible personalities. This kid was in Grade 9. He taught himself how to use Python and then decided on a whim to create an algorithm that utilizes the nature of one’s tweets to help categorize them. What if you commonly used hashtags at the end of your tweets? What if you used them in the middle? What if they were about social and political issues? What if they mostly had pictures? These were just a fraction of the question he asked to help design the algorithm that helped him pair users within his service.

Young programmerNeed I remind you he was in Grade 9. As he went on to describe how he got to this point, I was continually amazed by his humility and his honesty with the process by which he arrived at this endeavour. This was one of those moments that reminded me why I got into education in the first place. It was to help encourage students like the one I met at this table, and to help encourage a system that will promote the entrepreneurial spirit.

The anarchist philosopher Ivan Illich wrote about tools of conviviality. As a former catholic priest he never shed his abilities as an evangelist, he ardently preached about the need to shed the traditional model of education and leverage a more network based structure that included more real world issues and relevance. Although he died in 2002, just before the proliferation of web 2.0, it is safe to assume he would have valued a model of education that was more fluid with regards to its curriculum and its delivery.

Teaching students to code in a classroom in 2015 is a difficult task, and some schools are lucky to have great teachers, teachers that can adapt and provide exposure to new languages. However, our current structure doesn’t provide the adaptive capacity, nor does it leverage the tools of conviviality that Illich believed would transform an educational system built on a push model, towards one of funnels and webs. One that creates information exchanges and peer matches.

The week I spent at Canada Wide Science Fair opened my eyes to the true power of the web. The majority of the students that make it to the national level have an impressive capacity to take advantage of the new web, and a large number of which taught themselves to code on their own. However, not every student learned the same language. They made decisions about what worked best for them.

udacity nanodegree

To meet the needs of today’s students, we need to provide them with the opportunities to create their own peer networks and establish safe places for information exchanges. Coding isn’t just something that can be summed up in one class in high school. Just taking a quick glance the offerings provided by Udacity’s MOOC platform it’s easy to see the varying different languages and career paths available to those that learn to code.

Assuming that education can keep up with the rate and pace of change in technology is impossible. However, rethinking education in a way that utilizes web 2.0 will. Ivan Illich provided us with a roadmap, now we just need to open it and take the chance.

To see more conversation about coding in schools check out the discussion on #EastCoastEd

Also published on Medium.