BC’s new “coding” curriculum
If you have been keeping up with the news lately you will likely have heard about BC’s new coding curriculum.
January 19, 2016 – Globe and Mail
January 18, 2016 – Vancouver Sun
CUEBC executive members, on behalf of the BCTF, have been involved in this curriculum development process. CUEBC would like to help clarify any misleading interpretations or misconceptions that teachers in BC may have heard in the media over the last few days.
“Coding” is a buzzword that has been popularized through extensive media focus, pop-culture references, and increased public exposure towards successful computer programmers and/or software engineers. “Coders” have become the rock stars and media darlings for the digital generation. As a result, the term “coding” is often loosely used without much consideration for the implications of the practice.
A “coder” is a computer programmer and computer programming requires computers. “Coding”, like any skill, must be honed and defined through repetition and practice. Being a proficient coder often requires years of practice and refinement.
One key aspect of being a good computer programmer is having a sound understanding of computational thinking. Computational thinking is a foundational principle of computer science and from a primary perspective, involves familiar concepts such as problem decomposition, data representation, and modeling. These are all things that many teachers are already achieving in their classrooms in a variety of diverse and exciting ways.
So when Education Minister Mike Bernier says that “you don’t actually have to be sitting in front of a computer to learn coding… there’s lots of different ways to do that” he isn’t entirely incorrect but the disconnect is around his use of the word “coding“. “Coding” is another way to describe computer programming, so to actually “code” you most certainly need to be in front of a computer. To learn about introductory computational thinking processes, on the other hand, you can get by without one. In fact, there are a number of great online resources that can assist in teaching these computational thinking principles through analog lessons and activities.
If there is true desire for every child between kindergarten and grade 12 to learn actual “coding”, inequity of hardware access is certainly an issue that the province will have to weigh in on. Computer hardware that is either outdated, out of service, or simply insufficient is a common occurrence. School districts, expected to provide this through their local budgets but with the seemingly endless cutbacks or downloaded expenses, often find prioritizing technology purchasing to be challenging. There is also gross inequities of access between urban and rural schools. Organizations like the BC Technology for Learning Society offer cost-effective purchasing options for computer hardware but complicated purchasing agreements or inadequate long-term warranty needs handcuff districts from dealing with them.
Equal distribution of reliable high-speed internet access is also problematic. With a province as widespread and geographically diverse as British Columbia, there is tremendous expense to provide equal access to this fundamental service. Comparing educational technology curriculum models from the Maritimes is also challenging as geographic proximity in Eastern Canada can facilitate less complex networking infrastructures. Nonetheless, with a commitment to provide all K-12 children with coding experiences and with the United Nations declaring internet access as a fundamental human right in 2011 – ensuring even our most outlying districts have reliable high-speed internet access should be a top government priority. In addition to that, investing in future-proofing existing high-speed connections for the increased bandwidth necessary to support more connected teachers and students will help to ensure that the transformative technological goals of the BCEdPlan can be met.
What hasn’t been reported in the media yet is that there is no prescribed coding curriculum for grades K-5. Instead, there will be big picture competencies that can and may already be woven throughout existing curriculum. With that in mind, it is also important to differentiate between curricular competencies and curriculum. Curriculum is subject matter specific whereas a competency can be met in many possible ways. Competencies around computational thinking processes can be met in multiple ways, in multiple curricular areas, many of which are already in place in many K-5 classrooms.
Excerpt from the K-5 ADST rationale:
Students in Kindergarten to grade 5 will have increased opportunities to develop foundational applied skills within the context of existing curricula.
No proscribed provincial curriculum for Applied Skills K-5 will allow teachers more flexible and personal opportunities for cross-curricular hands-on work and skill building. The power of learning by doing will awaken critical student faculties, create empowered mindsets and prioritize making as a pedagogical stance. Communication of student learning will occur in the context of existing curricular areas. The common Rationale and Goals for Applied Skills K-12 would provide an overall conceptual framework for the development of big ideas and curricular competencies for Kindergarten to Grade 5. Applied Skills will provide focus and common language for current and future practice.
In the early years, students will receive opportunities to develop foundational applied skills through play. As they get older, and develop an interest in knowing how things work and wanting to make things of their own, they will have opportunities to develop foundational skills in activities that have a practical and real-life focus.
The K-12 ADST rationale focuses on developing big ideas around computational thinking at these early ages. The intention being that if these ideas are curated early, there will not be as significant of a cognitive shift required for students to learn actual coding at later stages of their educational career. Teachers will have autonomy around how they meet these objectives and many will likely be meeting them already within their existing practice. There will also be no requirement to communicate student learning around this as a separate subject area.
Moving on to the 6-7, and 8-9 curriculum drafts there is a noticeable shift and focus to more in-depth coding opportunities, initially offered through drag and drop, or block-based visual programming languages like Scratch and Kodu. All of these coding tools have vast quantities of resources and a well-developed support infrastructure for educators. The BC Digital Literacy Framework will also become a key topic at these grades and will maintain a prominent position throughout the curriculum right up to Grade 12.
CUEBC is committed to continuing our lengthy history of supporting BC teachers to integrate technology into their practice through our annual conference, sponsoring Hour of Code, Girls in ICT, and inquiry projects for teachers from around BC. We call on our provincial government to back up this exciting new curriculum with financial investments to support teacher training, reliable high-speed network access for all students, and hardware upgrade grants for districts. Equality of technology access for all students in our province should be of the utmost priority as the next tech innovator could be from anywhere.
– Jon Hamlin, CUEBC Vice-President