Voices of Teachers: Coding, Gamification, and Inquiry Learning

Can you tell us about the new program on Coding and Gamification? What inspired this pilot project?

Jan Courtin – National Program Director, The Learning Partnership

Based on current trends in gamification and wide-based growing demands for coding knowledge, we decided to investigate what teachers were doing with coding in the classrooms. We found a team of passionate, talented teachers, and invited them to work on creating The Learning Partnership I3 program for junior grades. It drew an overwhelming response. We are excited about the buzz and enthusiasm we are being greeted with and want to see the program reach every school. This program distinguishes itself by weaving together three strands – inquiry learning, coding and gamification that are rooted in curriculum.

What do you see as the benefits of learning through inquiry, coding and gamification for students and teachers?

Enzo Ciardelli – Programming and robotics teacher at Guy Brown School in Waterdown, ON

Coding and computer science is a beautiful application of math. It allows students to engage creatively with their learning. In this project, we are teaching students how to program games related to their inquiry in science. In order to do that, they have to rely on their math knowledge and follow algorithmic processes. The science curriculum has to be interwoven as they program. The level of engagement is hard to describe. Students feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work. They make programs that amaze even me! Students have to reach an end goal and they all do it differently. When we share codes as a class, they are able to see others’ thought processes. Coding relies on computational thinking and algorithmic processes. My hope is that coding becomes available for all students.

Jeffrey Keil – A Model Schools for Inner City teacher-coach with Toronto District School Board

There are many different benefits of connecting inquiry, coding, and gamification for students and teachers.  Students can relate to this project because they know what a video game is, and many are very interested in playing them.  Giving students the opportunity to develop a game, and then to code it as well, provides a platform to express their creativity. Game development also enhances responsibility, the ability to problem solve, collaborate with others, and the creation of real world challenges the students must overcome.  These skills are important in many different facets including learning and future employment.  Students become the developers and creators of technology instead of just using it.  Students can turn on a computer or an iPad, load a program or app and use it. But to develop code that tells a device what to do is very powerful and a necessary asset.

Emily Farkas – Teacher at Brian W. Fleming P.S., Mississauga, ON who encourages inquiry based learning, collaboration and the use of technology to support students in becoming lifelong learners.

My classroom is an inquiry based classroom where the students are provided with many different types of technology to support their learning process and to assist them with creating their inventions. The students often create inquiries that are much more challenging than anything I would ever assign them.  It also allows them to make global connections as they research information using different social media platforms along with traditional methods. Students’ discussions are very much focused on their projects. Students cannot wait to come into the Inquiry Studio to work and do not want to leave. When learning a new coding language, the smallest of movements from the robot elicits the most dramatic response from the students. This excitement filters through my classroom and even through the school.

Read more about Emily Farkas’ experience: Learning Story   Robotics, Coding and Inquiry Learning

We asked some teachers who participated in the program why they chose to participate and what is it about the program that makes them and their students excited.

Kamla Rambaran and Zélia Capitão-Tavares – Elementary teachers in Ontario, Canada. Both continue to look for innovative and engaging ways to integrate the collaborative aspect of technology to enhance student creativity, voice and learning. 

We have been tinkering with coding as a club throughout the school year via CS First & Scratch; as well as looking for ways to embed coding as a language or a tool that will allow students to develop 21st Century skills by being creators of content rather than just consumers.  Once students researched the ‘Big Idea’ and are engaged in the inquiry process, they take part in a variety of writing tasks summarizing their learning, planning a storyboard, and creatively communicating their new learning through developing and coding their learning story. Students are encouraged to create, troubleshoot, and learn through failures, while receiving immediate feedback to their code.

As teachers we remember that there are so many opportunities for scaffolding curriculum and student learning , and that coding is one small part of the bigger picture. That being said, embedding computer science within the instructional day has enabled our students to use their knowledge and apply ideas to something bigger when they code for others to play and learn.  This can range from animating a character or designing, and programming a game where players navigate through a maze or jump across scrolling backgrounds collecting artifacts.  Students are continuously planning, sequencing ideas, testing their code, debugging, reprogramming or rethinking their path until it is time to showcase their final product. As teachers, seeking out opportunities for personalized learning, and students choosing how to demonstrate their learning by having others play games they have programmed creates excitement, ownership and authentic learning.

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