RE@L Repost: "To Code or Not to Code? That Is The Question".... So What Is The Answer?

coding-national-curriculum-computingIt’s been awhile since we’ve seen the coding issue get so much attention in K12 classrooms. Maybe it’s caused by a lot more steam in the STEM movement.

Nonetheless, more and more students and teachers are now expressing interest in how to make computers and mobile devices like iPads follow their own coding instructions.

Why? There’s a real sense of power in getting a digital screen to obey your program/code and not someone else’s.

Teletype days1Since computers first wedged their way into K12 classrooms about 50 years ago, one of the questions frequently heard was: “Should students learn computer programming (coding)? Or, instead, should they learn to use computers and mobile devices, like iPads, as the best way to enhance their learning?” There’s only so much time in a teaching and learning day….

But the answer has to be, “Both!” Why? Both skills are more important than ever for learning and future careers. That question is still being debated today. For several generations the classroom focus has been more on using computers as a teaching and learning tool. But, today, coding is regaining the attention of teachers and the tech industry.

Having been math teachers in those days, your RE@L Blogmeisters, Dale and Tom were pioneers foresighted enough to gain access to computers in their classrooms. The photo at the right shows Tom’s students playing MECC’s exciting Oregon Trail. That simulation game was coded in BASIC by RE@L’s Don Rawitsch with two other college colleagues over 40 years ago!

For decades, computers, and now mobile devices, have become a powerful investigative learning tool. More importantly these devices serve as tools for students to show what they know.

Minivac601One of those first classroom computers, similar to the Minivac 601 at the left, ended up in Tom’s math classroom back in the early 60′s. The students loved it!

Even though the applications were simple and very limited by today’s standards, computers and coding held students’ attention.  They wanted to learn more!

Computer PuzzleStudents connected the Minivac wires to create programs for these early classroom computers. If they programmed it properly, the computer would play the game “Tic-Tac-Toe” with them. It even helped them solve the riddle of puzzles like the “Fox-Chicken-Corn” problem.” Click the link and check it out.

These early digital devices began to put a world full of findings and facts at the typing fingertips of both kids and teachers. The teachers used these new tools to teach, and the students used them to learn. More importantly, students were able to demonstrate their new knowledge with these new EdTech tools.

Yes! The students loved it. They showed their teachers that using new tools to learn is a powerful motivation to learn even more. 

CAMP TextCoding has become popular again. No more wires to connect! Soon, computer languages like BASIC, FORTRAN,  C+, and LEGO-LOGO were taught to and used by many students. Many teachers back then used the well-known Scott-Foresman CAMP textbooks to help teachers teach flowcharting and BASIC program coding to their students.

Tom can personally attest students had a far better understanding of adding fractions after analyzing and coding a program to solve them. Here’s why…assuming you remember some of your arithmetic from bygone days.  

Tom JMM 1968My students were assigned to write a coding program to add 1/3 + 1/4. (No, the answer is not 2/7!) Fractions can’t be added like whole numbers are. So, using BASIC program coding, the students “taught” the computer how to find the common denominator. That’s 12 in this example. So, you change 1/3 to 4/12 (they are still equal), and 1/4 becomes 3/12 in the same way. Their sum is….right you are…7/12!

The students discovered a lot about the power of coding: “If you know how to program a computer to solve a problem, you must understand it yourself.”

UnknownAll that said, coding is only a small part of the STEM curriculum that students need today.

Here’s an interesting link to some other middle and high school courses that can help you explore a STEM career.

Click the graphic at the left for more information.


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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.