Tell me why… I haven’t always done this! – Coding and Makerspaces

Tell me why… I haven’t always done this! – Coding and Makerspaces

This week’s presentation made me think a lot about the future of my teaching and classroom. Returning from a leave is always interesting because it feels like there’s an even “blanker” slate than the start of a new school year. I find myself thinking about what I want the atmosphere of my classroom to be like and what I want to focus on moving forward.

In terms of coding and makerspaces, I have just a bit of experience. I’ve used programs like with my grade 7 students as an additional activity, typically for those who finish curricular work and/or benefited from the extra challenge of tinkering with code. I have less experience with makerspace, incorporating it here and there but not true to its intended form. The presentation and articles this week have truly given these avenues (especially makerspaces) renewed purpose for me.

One of the points discussed in my small group during class around coding was that it is difficult to figure out where it “fits” in the curriculum. With pressure to cover the outcomes and often feeling like there isn’t enough time to even do that, how can we justify coding programs or dedicating blocks of valuable teaching and learning time to makerspaces? The rule follower in me does not  jive well with this. But, as we can (or at least should) all agree, there is more to school and learning than what is laid out in the curriculum. The value that coding and makerspaces can provide goes beyond the outcomes. This Common Sense article outlines some of these benefits of coding, including providing a creative outlet and opportunity and teaching problem solving skills, both of which are extremely beneficial when applied to basically anything in life (including curriculum outcomes). So, in a roundabout way, coding (and makerspaces) are curricular – they help provide and practice the skills students need to be successful in learning outcomes well!

Thinking about who might not benefit from learning coding, a bit of research informed me that the future of coding is going to involve more integration with AI, eliminating the need for as much human input. This means that learning more of the basic coding and programming skills might not be necessary, thus not benefiting students who do not pursue computers or programming further than this basic level. However, students who do intend to pursue careers in computers, programming, software development etc., learning the basic coding skills is valuable and a foundational building block in learning more advanced aspects of code creation and function. We don’t know where our students will end up, so providing a range of learning opportunities is critical in ensuring students have practice and experience in a variety of areas. How can they know they’re interested in something that they’ve never tried?

Over my 11 years in the classroom, I haven’t engaged in coding or makerspaces near as much as I’d like. The main reason for this is honestly time. I often feel like I have to allocate more “minutes” to math or ELA to support student learning, review tough concepts, or make up for the many interruptions that take away teaching and learning time. But I need to remind myself (and will need to continue reminding myself) that there is more to teaching than covering the curriculum. Yes, I know that legally speaking this is my job. Yes, I will do what I am obligated to do in the classroom. But I also want to find more ways to incorporate coding and makerspace opportunities as they allow students to explore new skill sets and apply them to all of their learning.

Another challenge, particularly for makerspaces, is the open-ended nature of this pursuit. I’ll admit that I enjoy order and systematic learning that is clear cut and organized…though in a middle years classroom it rarely ever ends up this way anyway. Letting go of control and letting students learn in whatever direction their creations take them is hard for me, but I know that despite the mess and absolute chaos that ensues during projects like this, I can’t deny that this is where the magic happens. Sometimes it’s hard to see this in the moment past the piles of felt and cardboard and the fact that I can’t see the floor. Having a dedicated area as a makerspace, as the pictures show in this article, would provide a decent “happy medium” I think! Another to think about when I set up my classroom in the fall.

While coding and makerspaces “experts” can help provide valuable knowledge and insight, I absolutely do not believe that it needs to be taught this way. A friend of mine who taught middle school math for many years shared that growing up, she struggled with this subject. She feels like this has been an asset to her teaching now as she can better connect with struggling students and teach in ways that once would have helped her. Letting go of the idea that teachers need to be the “keepers of knowledge” is crucial in letting coding and makerspace journeys reach their full potentials. Learning alongside one’s teacher can be just as valuable (if not sometimes moreso) as having an expert dispense their knowledge.

One thought on “Tell me why… I haven’t always done this! – Coding and Makerspaces

  1. Hey Christina ,Your contemplation adeptly captures the shifting dynamics of education, particularly in adopting coding and maker spaces. Your willingness to reshape the classroom environment and incorporate these novel methods is truly motivating. While recognizing hurdles such as time constraints and the open-ended nature of maker spaces, your dedication to offering varied learning experiences remains evident. Collaborating with students on this journey is crucial for unleashing the complete potential of coding and maker spaces in education. Keep forging ahead with innovation and exploration!

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