Our society is becoming increasingly globalized and digitized. New media and technologies keep emerging, forcing us to adapt the way we live, think and learn. But adaptation takes time, and there is still a divide between the skills children learn in classrooms and the skills they will actually need in their careers, as well as in society in general.
The “Four Cs”
Critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity have been identified as the most important skills required for a 21st-century education, and are known as the “Four Cs”. The challenge lies in how to incorporate these four Cs in children’s education.
Coding will not only teach kids how to make their own video game or website, but it will also introduce them to a number of other competencies in a very tangible way.
Computer scientist Mitchel Resnick explored how new technologies allow people to learn in creative ways. Resnick and his group developed Scratch, an online community where children can program and share interactive stories, animations, and games. Scratch allows kids to express themselves creatively and become fluent in new technologies.
Though the term “digital natives” is often used to describe young people who have grown up with new technology and media, Resnick is skeptical of it. Kids spend a lot of time gaming, browsing, and texting, but that doesn’t make them fluent in these technologies. They know how to interact with them, but they can’t create with them. “It’s almost as if they can read, but they can’t write” Resnick is quoted as saying.
The theory of constructivism
According to the theory of Constructivism, creating or building something in the real world supports knowledge acquisition. By allowing kids to interact with a problem or a concept, learning becomes more meaningful to them.
In a coding context, learning to code quickly evolves into coding to learn, opening up opportunities to learn in a more meaningful way. To illustrate this, Mitchel Resnick shared the story of a young boy who had created a “big-fish-eats-small-fish” game in Scratch. He wanted the game to be able to keep score and asked Resnick for help. Resnick showed him how to add a variable to the game to create a scoreboard. The boy was very excited about this improvement to his game. He thus learned about variables in a context that made sense to him, making them more relatable and meaningful.
Educational coding tools
A lot of other educational coding tools are based on constructivism.
One example is Sphero. Sphero is a robotic ball you control with an app on your phone. This makes it more suitable for older kids who have access to a smartphone — or even adults who have an interest in robots and coding. The app uses drag and drops options, which make it very easy to program the robot ball. Sphero can be used on virtually all surfaces, inspiring people to get creative with it.
My last example is KUBO, the new kid on the block. KUBO is a small robot that consists of a body with two wheels and a detachable head. All you have to do to turn on the robot is snap the head onto the body. This makes it extremely easy to get started. There are different heads for different subjects, and each head comes with a set of tiles.
You use the tiles to create a function and let KUBO read the function by letting it roll over them. KUBO then executes the function when placed on a “play” tile. Like Cubetto, KUBO doesn’t require any screens, which makes it easy to use for teachers, parents and kids. The different heads and tiles allow for an endless number of learning possibilities for kids of all ages.
Teaching kids how to get by in the constantly evolving world of the 21st century can seem like an unmanageable task, but it is nonetheless an important one. These educational robots, and many other educational coding tools, can prove very helpful in teaching kids critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. They can also give them more insight into the technologies they are so accustomed to using.