8 Online Resources to Help Your Students Learn to Code

We live in an increasingly programmed world. Our cars, computers, phones, television, healthcare, movies, music, and education are all influenced by programming languages. Yet, many of us don’t read or write in a single programming language. We can certainly have thoughts and opinions about each of these areas, but understanding what goes on beneath the hood might help with those thoughts. Of course, there is the added benefit of being able to program parts of the world around us. As Dan Crow wrote, “Software is the language of our world.” So, why not learn about this language?

Consider the following ten benefits of learning to program.

  1. It helps teach logic, systematic and analytical thinking.
  2. As a result, it is excellent training for developing problem-solving skills.
  3. It gives us insight into the programmed world around us.
  4. It gives us a useful skill in today’s world.
  5. We can write our own programs. How fun is that?
  6. Of course, unless you devote significant time, there will be far better programmers out there, the people you want to write some of the most important programs in your work on life. And yet, learning to program will help you learn how to communicate more effectively with those programmers.
  7. It opens doors to new career opportunities or might enhance current careers (sometimes in unexpected ways).
  8. It is wonderfully rewarding and confidence-building to create something with your ideas, even if it isn’t a masterpiece or the foundation of the next Microsoft.
  9. It might give you insights on how software works…the software you use each day.
  10. Not that this is a great reason, but programming is certainly as valuable of a skill and many of the others that are emphasized in schools around the world.

In full disclosure, I’m far from a professional programmer. Nonetheless, there are countless free or inexpensive resources that can help us and/or our students explore the world of programming. As an instructional designer, I personally stay clear of Edx and Coursera for programming guidance. There are too many superior options online that give a far more personalized learning experience. The outdated modes of instruction in some of these courses from supposedly elite schools do not, from a course design perspective, compare to the potential learning experiences of other free and accessible online platforms. Here are eight great options to consider.

  1. Kahn Academy – You will find clear and helpful tutorials for learning JavaScript. Why learn JavaScript? This article provides a couple of reasons.
  2. Udacity – This service provides a number of programming courses from Universities and other organizations.
  3. CodeHS – This one works especially well for teachers who want to learn programming with their students. Check out the testimonial page for a sense of how people are using it and how it is helping them.
  4. LearnStreet – You’ll find well-designed courses on learning Java, JavaScript, Ruby, and Python.
  5. TreeHouse – This one is not free and I’ve not used it, but I’d heard and ready great reviews about the service.
  6. Code Avengers – Are you looking for a project-based approach to programming? If so, Code Avengers is worth a try. They also do a nice job catering to different audiences: home schoolers, teachers with classes, as well as individual people want to learn some programming. They have a couple of free courses and others for a fee.
  7. CodeSchool – I just started dabbling with this one, but I’m impressed so far. It includes a mix of video explanations and hands-on programming exercises.
  8. CodeAcademy – This was one of the first sites that I tried, and it worked well. They include tutorials, but I love the exercises where you get to do a bit of coding and then see if it works.

Let the programming begin!

Bartle’s Gamer Profile for Designing Learning Experiences?

What is your gamer profile and what does it say about you as a learner? Is it possible to use gamer profiles of learners to design more high-interest lessons and learning experiences? Last year I learned about Richard Bartle, creator of the first Multi-User Dungeon, author of Designing Virtual Worlds, part-time professor of game design at the University of Essex, and originator of the research behind Bartle’s Gamer Psychology Test. Based upon his MUD, Bartle noticed that there were four types of players. There are killers, achievers, explorers, an socializers. Kyatric provided a simple explanation of these profiles:

Achievers are diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure).

Explorers are spades (they dig around for information).

Socialisers are hearts (they empathise with other players).

Killers are clubs (they hit people with them).

While these were intended to describe interactions in a MUD; game designers, educators and those interested in gamification have used these categories for everything from instructional design to marketing campaigns. There are challenges and proposed alternatives to using these four categories, but the profiles offer an interesting lens through which to look at learning experience design, considering distinct motivational and personality profiles of participants.

As an example, in my last MOOC (Learning Beyond Letter Grades), we decided to experiment by using Bartle’s profiles to inform the types of features and experiences we built into the weekly learning experiences. We provided forums, Twitter, and a Google Community for ample opportunities to socialize. We also leveraged many activities where the participants collectively generated important knowledge from which we could all learn. We built a collection of suggested resources (including some for those who want to go deeper into a subject) for the explorers, but we also used the forums and other places for those explorers to display their findings for the rest of the group. For the achievers, we built a digital badge system, offering participants the opportunity to earn open badges by demonstrating a baseline skill with each of the learning modules. Finally, for the killers, we added a competitive feature where participants could see who already earned a badge for a given module, generating a leader’s board (although we had a glitch with this part and ended up disabling it).

This was more of a creative exercise and I have little evidence to show that learners were more satisfied or engaged as a result of using these profiles to shape the design. Nonetheless, it drove us to spend more time on the learner analysis of our instructional design. As any good instructional designer knows, the best designs need to take into account the needs, motivations, background, interests, and profiles of the intended audience. This can include psychological profiles, and Bartle’s categories served as a playful tool for building with the learner’s mind in mind. At minimum, it led us to design greater variety in the activities, adding a number of potentially high-interest experiences. We ended up with largely consistent activity through most of the MOOC (where activity dropped off more sharply over time with our first MOOC).

I have no research to argue that Bartle’s profiles can or should be used to increase student engagement or learning, but the research solidly supports designing learning environments and experiences that take into account the distinctives of individual learners and groups of learners. From that perspective, I see his profile as a fun and interesting way to start thinking about designing learning experiences that are multi-faceted, connecting with learners based upon their motivations and profile as learners.

What do you think? Would you consider using Bartle’s four categories to design learning experiences for the killers, achievers, socializers, and explorers in your learning organization? Might this help you think about more variety in the design of these contexts? Or, perhaps you could use this to invite learners to think about their own profiles as gamers and learners. If you’ve used Bartle’s profiles in one of these ways, I would love to hear your thoughts. Or, if you decide to give it a try, please considering letting me know how it goes.

A Compelling Vision for Education from an 8th Grader

There is so much we can learn from young people. It is why I appreciate Howard Rheinhold’s approach when he refers to his students as co-learners. I was reminded of what we can learn from young people as I read this article from Velammal Vidhyashram, an 8th grader who lives in Chennai, the capitol city of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Velemmal is a motivated and accomplished young man, already running his own business. However, what impressed me about the article was his perspective on life and his advice to other young people. He finished the article by writing the following:

My message to other young people is this: “Look for problems around you, and get inspired from them. You’ll see a lot of opportunities to use your (own) skills to make this world a better place to live!”

I’m intrigued by this simple approach to loving his fellow neighbors in our global neighborhood. I’m also intrigued by how the three parts of his advice sets the foundation for a wonderfully rich approach to education.

1) “Look for Problems” 

What are the needs in the world? What about your local world? What are the problems that impact the people in your family, community, state, country and world? Start by learning about the needs that exist. While many state these as problems, I also like to think of it as exploring both the problems and the possibilities in the world.

2) “Get Inspired for Them”

As you consider these problems, which ones inspire you? Which ones capture your interest and compel you to do something about them? I like a phrase shared by Bill Hybels. He calls it your Holy Discontent. This need not be some great awakening or a “Road to Damscaus” experience. It might just be a real need in the world that you care about, something that inspires you to act.

3) “Use Your Skills to Improve the World”

Now that you’ve identified a problem, do something about it.  If you already have knowledge and skills that can be used to help address the problem, by all means, use them. Or, perhaps you find that you need to gain more knowledge, develop new skills, or build up existing ones.  Go for it. This a wonderful motivation for learning.

Some approach a phrase like “improve the world” with skepticism. The world is big place and there is so much wrong with it. The danger is to misue this reality so much that it overwhelms and leads us toward inaction. You don’t have to save the world. Just think of specific people who have the need that you identified, and learn to help them. As one very wise person said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Which neighbors in this world need your help?

Problem Inspired Help

While this is a rich perspective on life, it is also a compelling vision for schooling. What if learners were invited to spend part of their time in school working through these three steps? Identify a problem. Grow in your passion for and interest in that problem. Use or gain the knowledge and skills needed to do something about it…and then do it. This could be a beautifully simple but profound way for young people to spend part of their school day. I’m not talking about a teacher playing a

video about starving children and then having the kids put together care packages. While that may be admirable, I’m referring to an invitation for each student to identity a problem or need, and work toward addressing it. Along the way, students will likely need to gain new knowledge and skill, and this becomes a generative curriculum.

This is not to suggest that all schools should become full self-directed leraning centers. I’m simply arguing for setting aside part of the school day for this type of experience. What do you think? Is there room is our packed school days for students to invest a little time in addressing the needs of the world?

25 Provocative Quotes & Notes About Innovation in Education

I just attended the 2014 WISN Conference on Innovation. It is one of the most thought-provoking conferences that I’ve attended, rich with educational leaders and visionaries who have imagined the possibilities for education and put those possibilities in to practice. These are people who are creating and leading schools that are rich with discovery, learning, engagement, and meaning. There are project-based schools, blended and online schools, place-based schools, Montessori schools, schools that embrace game-based learning and more. It is a playground for those who are interested in discovering what is possible for 21st century education, for people wondering if there is something better than the status quo, and those who want to learn how to make educational possibilities a reality.

As I reflect on my notes and experiences from the event, here are some the more provocative and thought-provoking ideas from two of my favorite sessions. One comes from the keynote with Alife Kohn. One need not agree with everything he says to benefit from his challenges to the dominant models of schooling today. The second set of quotes come from a team of presenters at Harltand School of Community Learning; a personalized, experiential, project-based, student-centered school in Wisconsin.

1. On dividing students in school by grades… “When was the last time you spent the entire day with only 42 year olds?” – Alfie Kohn

2. “When you get away from all grades and rewards, kids are more likely to pick things that are challenging for them. When you add many grades and rewards, people are more likely to try things that are easier, that they have a better chance of ‘passing.'” – Alfie Kohn

3. We need to find ways to get away from “stratifying, segregating and sorting kids so they see themselves as deficient in some way.” – Alfie Kohn

4. “Others students are labeled as gifted or talented which give them access to enrichments and experiences from which all kids would benefit.” – Alfie Kohn

5. “If we looked at the research to drive our decisions, we would not use letter grades.” – Alfie Kohn

6. “PowerPoint corrupts. Absolute PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” – Alfie Kohn
(I still use plenty of PowerPoint, but I love the challenge of the quote.)

7. “We want kids to experience success and failure as information, not as reward and punishment” – Alfie Kohn quoting Jerome Bruner

8. “Even good forms of assessment are bad when kids think about them too much. Most of the time, kids should not be thinking about how good they are doing.” Instead they should be lost in what they are doing. – Alife Kohn

9. On the dangers of rubrics… “Kids are thinking, ‘Is this a four?’ rather than, ‘How is this sentence impacting the reader?'” – Alife Kohn  See, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment for more information on this.

10.  Read Joe Bower’s blog about assessment as a conversation (de-grading, de-testing…).

11. In response to claims that Kohn’s critique of letter grades is unrealistic and would require a complete overhaul of our system… “Until we’ve made massive changes in our infrastructure, go ahead and keep destroying kids with grades.” – Alife Kohn

12. There is no research to show that homework improves student learning before high school, and it is minimal/questionable on that level. – Alfie Kohn

13. On the Common Core State Standards – “Let’s not confuses uniformity with excellence.” – Alfie Kohn

14. When it comes to the topic of grading and assessment, “we need to ask the radical questions. Don’t argue about whether an 86 should be a ‘B’ or a ‘B+’. Don’t just ask if 45 minute periods should be 47 minutes. Ask why we use periods instead of projects.” – Alfie Kohn

15. On the negative impact of homework… “Family time should probably be determined by families, not by schools assigning homework.” – Alife Kohn

16. A great school mission statement from the Hartland School of Community Learning – “To empower individuals to be architects and advocates in their journey of learning.”

17. “We don’t talk about weaknesses as much as opportunities for growth.” – Hartland School of Community Learning staff

18. One of the main questions for a teacher at Hartland School of Community Learning – “What do I know about you as a learner?”

19. On the importance of reflection and debriefing at Hartland School of Community Learning – “An activity is just an activity until it is processed.”

20. “At even given moment in our school, 27 kids are doing 27 different things.” – Hartland School of Community Learning

21. Key questions for learners at Hartland School of Community Learning: 1) “What are you going to create/do to show your growth over time?” 2) How has this experience evolved your thinking?” 3) “What experiences do you want to have to make your mind and your world bigger?”

22. “If you are comfortable, then it is probably not personalized learning.” – Hartland School of Community Learning

23. “Without the messy, we can’t have the magic.” – Hartland School of Community Learning

23. For personalized, student-driven learning, “a great amount of unlearning needs to take place. It will be messy and uncomfortable, but trust the process.” – Hartland School of Community Learning

24. “I’ve seen the interest drive the learning so deeply.” – Hartland School of Community Learning.”

25. If you are in a school, are your teachers addicted to learning in our own lives? “Our staff is addicted to learning.” – Hartland School of Community Learning.”