19 June 2014

Why Coding Isn't Just About Career Prospects

It's hard to throw a stick at the Internet these days and NOT get back a result about the importance of teaching and encouraging our students to code. Here are some results just from a Google search of news this week.

I generally agree with the premise that it's important for our kids to obtain the Internet literacy of coding, but I'm usually wary of any solution we present to students as a silver bullet for future success.
Even still, I write this to agree that we should be encouraging coding literacy to our students. Why? For me, it's a personal reason. Coding empowers students to make their lives better. That improvement may look like better lifestyle from increased salary, but it could also manifest as using coding to solve a personal problem. Let me tell you about my project this week.

My wife blogged recently about our journey recognizing, diagnosing, and supporting our son's speech delay and therapy, (http://heybethbaker.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/lets-be-serious/), and we had his first IEP meeting on Monday, setting up his preschool accommodations and interventions. It's occupying a lot of our prayers and time, so I was glad to get some unstructured time this week to work on a website/web app for him to use in support of his speech therapy.

A common speech therapy tool to support communication is a set of "PECS" cards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picture_Exchange_Communication_System), basically consisting of pictures of commonly used items for the child to grab and show to their caretaker. Beth made a set several months ago that Landon didn't really take to, but he's shown a lot of interest in the iPad recently as we've used it as a potty training reward, so I had some hope that a digital version might be more appealing. Here's what the finished project looks like:
If you'd like to try it out, here's the link I hosted on Dropbox. (bit.ly/landonPECS)

Maybe you're asking yourself, "But Chuck, hasn't someone already made an app for this? Why reinvent the wheel?" They have, in fact, but they are all super expensive. :P 
Here are some examples for the curious:

And here's another blogger who took a different DIY approach on the iPad

Beyond saving some money, there's an intangible quality to knowing you're crafting something for someone you love, and some enduring benefit to knowing my website/app will always be available and easily modified as Landon's needs change. Having the basic web design skills to put together this site allowed me to care for my son - something I take very seriously. Here's what this project led me to conclude about the purpose of coding-

Teaching our students to code allows them to make the web work for them.

When we speak the language of the web, we don't have to wait for someone else to meet our needs or fit our needs into someone else's box. 

And the richest aspect of my coding project? The HTML and CSS wasn't even half of the project! I have a student who wants to go into game design, but refuses that it would be of worth to put some programming/coding skills to go with her future design marketability. If all I'd done is coded the page, I'd have nothing to meet the needs I was trying address!

Here are the other things I did -
  • Photography (the personalized images of Landon's toys and clothes)
  • Image editing (taking out backgrounds to get transparent images)
  • Sound recording (pairing sound with the images)
  • File conversions (my recording app's output to the supported types for Chrome and Safari)
  • Researching tools and methods you might not even use (I wanted the audio to play when the images themselves were clicked, but after several hours of trying/tweaking JavaScript examples just scrapped that route and adjusted course)

It was frustrating, it was fulfilling, it was led by passion, it drove further inquiry. It was pure project based learning.

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Thanks for sharing!