Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Time to talk coding

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMGen Clacken
Anki Cozmo coding robot is on display at the CES International technology show on Wednesday, January 10, 2018, in Las Vegas.

There are ongoing discussions about what other languages apart from English should be taught. A few decades ago, it was Spanish, and more recently, Mandarin has come into focus.

There is one language however, that has not received much attention in this region, yet researchers say it is one of the most used languages in the world.

That language is coding, and initiatives like Code.org are on a mission to teach the whole world this useful and relevant language.

There is hardly any aspect of everyday life that is not influenced in some way by coding. From the applications found on one's cell phones to the features found in one's car, coding and its simple and sophisticated application is affecting lives in ways that could never have been imagined in the past.

 

WHAT IS CODING?

 

Coding, in simple terms, makes our everyday objects and devices smart. It is how computers and computerised resources are made to work.

Codes are sets of instructions that make things perform in certain desirable ways. It is the language of computers and things.

As technology advances, more and more 'things' are being affected by codes. Research indicates that in a few short years from now, tyres will be able to report air pressure readings back tyre companies instantaneously; road railings and road markings will be able to communicate with cars and their drivers to alert them of accidents, traffic, and road conditions; and words and pictures on cereal boxes will light up on supermarket shelves to attract prospective consumers.

It is for these and other reasons that projects like Code.org are aggressively pushing the "learn to code" agenda right across the world. Code.org is a non-profit Web-based learning portal that teaches students how to create instructions using computer codes and execute those instructions to make things work. Its work is based on the philosophy that every student should learn computer science just as every student is taught biology, math and English.

 

CONTINUOUS ENGAGEMENT

 

In 2017, Code.org had five hundred million users in sixty-two languages, supported by 84 international partners.

Their target audience includes students from all over the world and as young as four years old to those attending university. Capitalising on theories supporting game-based and problem-based learning, the user experience is built on the principle of starting off small and simple and advancing to more complex code building over time and continuous engagement.

Beginners are given simple problems in video and other formats and are then assisted to use blocks of pre-packaged codes to solve those problems. As users progress, the problems become more complex and the blocks of code become less functional. Eventually, users are able to create their own blocks of code that will programme the software to solve complex problems.

There are many benefits to gain when one joins the code revolution. The first is that it encourages creativity and sharpens problem-solving skills. Users must use the pre-packaged codes or create their own codes to solve problems or respond to on-screen prompts.

Continuous exposure to problem scenarios develops critical and computational thinking as users have to engage those skill sets to solve given problems. The programme also helps to increase the level of digital literacy among children and adults, and it provides an opportunity for users to learn the language of tomorrow. Additionally, it provides fun learning experiences in a context that is relevant to the users's everyday life.

Thousands of schools across the United States have adopted the Hour of Code programme, where students spend one hour each day in school learning how to write computer codes.

Many of those schools use the Code.org programme, which is supported by curriculum for each stage/grade level and corresponding lesson plans.

This is something that schools in Jamaica should proactively look at implementing.

Signing up on Code.org is free, and benefits are priceless, and they extend way into the future. Join now and begin the fun of solving problems through computer programming.

- Gen Clacken is an educational technologist with 16 years' experience in online education. Visit her website www.genclacken.com.