Cultivating the Joy of Coding
The word “technology” or “coding” can drive fear into the hearts of some, especially if they are expected to teach it. Not so with Kara Dawson, Lead Information Technology Support Teacher of SD71, Comox.
“I’ve always dabbled in coding but am definitely not an expert,” explains Dawson. “During a project I was involved in over 13 years ago with Dreamweaver, we started a school district page and I found I loved working with code”.
That love for code has stayed with Dawson throughout her 20+ years of teaching, including the start of an Hour of Code that she has always promoted. Last year she noticed she was getting a lot of questions around coding so she created a workshop for her district. She was then invited to participate in ERAC’s coding project which she thoroughly enjoyed and came back to the district with more excitement and more focused coding goals.
“I started with Lego Minestorms which has lego pieces that include tiny sensors,” notes Dawson. “It takes a few days to put together and is challenging but was limited to the Lego code at the time.”
Wanting to expand on coding, Dawson integrated a different product, a Sphero. This ball robot was very durable and could be made to jump, move and change colours. Students were able to make light shows that worked in time with the movements and colours.
“As I was teaching myself to create a square and figuring out the calculations to do a 180 degree turn, I realized I didn’t need to know it,” explains Dawson. “The students were learning faster than me and were collaborating together.”
The children soon surpassed Dawson and they took pleasure in sharing their knowledge with others; students and teachers alike. And it wasn’t the kids you expected to excel, but rather some of the struggling students who shined when it came to coding and creating the robots. It ignited their enthusiasm and they enjoyed sharing their expertise with their peers.
“It’s always better to work in a group because different people bring different strengths to the table,” shared Dawson. “You have the mathematician that is able to think very linearly for the calculations, then you also have the creative student that is able to conceptualize the final product and take the lead in design, and so on. Doing coding can be frustrating if done by yourself.”
Controlling something on a screen is much different from controlling a 3D object through coding and students found it very empowering. Dawson recommends the Tickle app as a great option for teaching coding to primary students and Lightning Lab has been beneficial for older students as a hub to create, contribute and learn with Sphero robots.
“Some people have a fear of code,” notes Dawson. “I hope through this presentation that attendees will feel that it’s more doable and that they’re more comfortable with it overall. My main advice is to not be afraid and just go for it!”
In Dawson’s role, she teaches students and teachers how to use technology in a meaningful way. You can see what she’s up to with her SD71 teachers through her personal site at Kara’s Corner.