• January 20, 2017

participants in a workshop

Photo credit: Monica Berra

Only a short time ago the practice of ‘learning to code’ was very inaccessible. A missing semicolon, an uncapitalized letter, or getting the math not quite right meant that a program would simply crash. This year, Prince George School District is seeking to build a Professional Learning Community around Computer Science and coding. Teachers are being introduced to coding through the use of resources, like studio.code.org, that are both accessible and embody elements of Universal Design for Learning.

Professional development opportunities hosted by SET-BC has introduced teachers to facilitating ‘Hour of Code’ events at their own schools. The Hour of Code is a global movement across 180+ countries to introduce students to computer science and computer programming. District teacher Cliff Waldie and SET-BC Service Coordinator, Scott McKay, co-taught an afterschool session for teachers from various schools and discussed the logistics of hosting a school wide event. Staff had the option of booking Scott or Cliff to assist them on the day of their event.

At the Centre for Learning Alternatives (CLA), district Vice-Principal of Learning Innovations – Learning Commons, Monica Berra took the opportunity to co-teach an ‘Hour of Code’ with Scott. It was important to ensure that all students had the opportunity to get ‘hands-on’ with coding. Students participating in this session were all ‘at risk youth’ enrolled in alternate programs.

wiki-commons-Rapsberry-Pi-image-600x450

Photo credit: WikiCommons

The online resource, studio.code.org, was recommended by SET-BC not just because it is so well known, but because of its incredible flexibility and built-in assistive supports that meet many of the guidelines and checkpoints that define Universal Design for Learning.

For example, students not only had a wide range of themes to choose from (such as Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen, etc) but, more importantly, they were provided feedback and a varied level of demands to optimize challenge along the way. Some students customized the interface and display of information to use blocks that were dragged and dropped, while others could choose to type in JavaScript using the keyboard.

Not all students wanted to work on the screen of the computer so multiple tools were available to construct understanding. This looked like exploring a ‘Raspberry Pi microcomputer as another way to learn about hardware and coding. After assembling the computer, one student was able to follow instructions to ‘paint’ in the 3D environment of Minecraft using a language called Python running on the microcomputer.

“It’s amazing how flexible this site is” remarked one of the participating teachers, “I can change the language for some of my English language learners!”. Following the session, Monica remarked, “I know the teachers are interested in continuing working on these sites”.

New tools like studio.code.org are really opening doors for students and teachers offering not only the opportunity for students to learn how to code, but to do so in an accessible learning environment. We look forward to hearing more about Prince George’s Professional Learning Community!

UDL Guidelines

Photo credit: www.cast.org