In early December last year, Te Papa in Wellington was heaving with budding coders participating in the global Hour of Code initiative. Students explored the Hour of Code game, teachers experimented with a range of coding applications, and members of the public learned to programme a robot and code their

own memes.

The Te Papa events, supported by Accenture, were among 444 registered Hour of Code events in New Zealand and 154,100 events worldwide. The idea behind it: to help students around the world learn the basics of coding.

Everyone seems to think learning to code is a good idea. It’s hard to argue with the logic that we want our students to become creators of content – and not mere consumers.

But is it just a fad? Will grown-up Gen Zers reminisce at parties and say, “Remember when we had to learn how to code? What a waste of time that was!”?

Right now it’s a nifty thing to learn and teach, but experts such as Dr Richard Campbell of Coding Heroes in South Korea say we are within 10 years of coding becoming commoditised.

The $100,000 salaried roles will be more like $40,000, he says, because it won’t be a specialised skill anymore – everyone will know how to code.

Learning Without Frontiers founder Graham Brown-Martin goes one step further and says it won’t be long before coding will all be automated anyway.

But Campbell says this shouldn’t put us off learning to code. The point of teaching coding goes beyond the mechanics of learning to code.

“We shouldn’t be teaching coding for coding’s sake. It’s the creativity, critical thinking and other 21st-century skills that kids utilise that are important to take away from the coding experience.”

Don Carlson, director of education for Microsoft Asia Pacific, agrees.

“Coding empowers young people, giving them the tools they need to not only express themselves, but also transform the way they think critically and solve complex problems.”

Minecraft Education director Neal Manegold sees Minecraft – the popular computer game and learning tool – as a vehicle for creativity, collaboration and problem solving with open-ended student-centred challenges. It lends itself to project-based learning, he says.

Manegold says Minecraft can be used across all subjects.

“It’s not a case of teachers saying ,‘OK, now it’s Minecraft time’; it’s about seamless curriculum integration.”

He points to a growing bank of Minecraft lesson plans shared by teachers, for teachers. Most of the plans are multidisciplinary. One lesson plan tasks students with building a sustainable community on an island with limited resources, touching on literacy, geography and environmental sciences.

Manegold also says there needs to be clear evidence of students’ learning.

“It’s not enough for teachers to say, ‘I’m cool, I’m using Minecraft’. Students need to be able to show the benefits of what they’re doing and what
they’ve learned.”

Campbell agrees that coding should be incorporated into all disciplines and not left to the computer science teacher to teach. As an English teacher, he got his students to code a trick from Roald Dahl’s The Twits.

“Teachers need to be unafraid to teach beyond what they know, and to fail. They need to be able to learn from their students.”

Adele Warburton, who teaches at Canterbury’s Methven Primary School, is happy to admit that her students have a better grasp on Minecraft
than her.

“They’re digital natives after all. Accepting differences is one of our school values and the kids have to accept that I’m useless!” she says.

The values and 21st-century skills learned along the way are all part of why Warburton has embraced Minecraft. Using Minecraft as a learning tool encourages collaboration, communication, creativity and problem solving, she says. It also teaches kids about being good digital citizens.

“We talk about how you wouldn’t rip someone’s book up, therefore you wouldn’t tear down their house in Minecraft.”

The University of Canterbury’s Tracy Henderson is an advocate for incorporating computational thinking into education. Computational thinking, which features in the new digital technologies curriculum, is the underlying process of solving problems where the solution is implemented in a programming language for a digital device.

Henderson says a teacher’s role is to empower students to be able to produce programs that solve a given problem, rather than put together something that is restricted to a few tools that they have taught themselves.

“One of the major misconceptions and perceptions about students in our school system is that because our students are digital natives and that technology is getting easier to use, our students don’t need to learn about this. The reality is they are great consumers of technology, but don’t necessarily have the computational thinking skills to be great creators of technology.”

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