Programing and Pedagogy: Can They Mix?

An article this morning in the Telegraph (UK) highlighted an education problem occurring in Europe, but I’m sure it is occurring here in Ontario as well. The author explains in the article that UK schools are teaching computer skills that are limited to Microsoft Office, and are not branching out to other areas of computer science such as coding and programing. While computer science is a growing field in the world, companies are struggling to find adequately trained personnel, a problem the article attributes to the school system. The article highlights attempts to mediate this situation at an early level, referring to the effort from MIT Media Lab to build an interactive creative software, Scratch.

Scratch is easy to understand, and powerful at creating games, videos, and other interactive activities for the computer. Best of all, the software introduces key concepts of coding and programing to its users in a fun, interactive way.

The greatest thing about Scratch is that it can be used in all disciplines. Doing a unit on story elements in English? Have the students create a short video to demonstrate the parts of a story. Need to get kids involved in geometry? Have the students create an interactive game to use shapes to build different objects.

However, all these applications are easier said then done. Teaching the students to use the software could be laborious, as can learning the software yourself. While unique individual student projects might seem more plausible than whole class involvement, Scratch adds another tool to your arsenal to encourage creativity, as well as foster an interest in programing through any course or discipline the student might find themselves in.

Schoology: Social Media for Education

While much is being said about the role of social media in our Canadian schools, I’m sure that most of us will agree that it is here to stay. This leads to many common threads of thought among teachers. Primarily, how will social media effect the way my students learn and interact, and, can I use it to my advantage to keep kids engaged.

To many teachers, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterst, etc. have become distractions for their students. With the sheer number of students with mobile devices, the world of their friends and family is in their pocket, often occupying their mind during your lessons. If we can harness the power of social media to engage students and keep their attention, would we be able to improve classroom dynamics?

Enter Schoology, the educational social media network. Schoology seeks to use the structure of social media (with it’s own aesthetic looking similar to Facebook’s) to enhance student-teacher, student-student, and parent-student-teacher interactions. Previously this has been attempted by email lists, phone calls, class websites or blogs, and a variety of other means. However, while many of the previous options may have been steps in the right direction, Schoology provides a seamless communication experience in one package. Whether it’s posting homework due dates, extra handouts as PDFs, or asking students to digitally hand in assignments via their dropbox, Schoology provides a clear way for teachers, students, and parents to see what is expected in that particular class.

Best of all, it’s all FREE. Despite the great amount of tools that Schoology can provide for you, it can be compared to Google+ in this way: nobody’s going to use it if nobody’s there. This means that the teacher must incorporate it into their teaching regularly (via forum discussions, submitting homework assignments, etc.). Along with this, the school as a whole needs to incorporate it to maximize its effectiveness. If a student has all of his courses on Schoology, you can be assured that s/he will spend more time on the site as it will soon become a one stop shop for all things “school”.

I am excited about the prospect of using this tool in my classroom, and I hope that with its user friendly interface and familiar feel, it will be adapted by many teachers so that we can use social media effectively in our classrooms.