Programming, which is included in the latest national core curriculum for basic education, can be integrated in many learning activities in various ways. It is a motivating tool for learning problem-solving and something authentic about the digital world of today and of the future.
Programming was introduced to Finnish basic education two years ago. Other countries have also realised that the computational thinking (or more broadly “digital literacy”) developed through programming is a crucial part of every child’s skills in the 21st century, regardless of their future profession.
However, the latest studies in Finland have shown that the implementation of programming in everyday schoolwork has not been that easy. One highlighted factor is that teachers are uncertain how to bring up the topic. Programming is such a new phenomenon in basic education that research-based knowledge is still lacking. More information, training and pedagogical support is desperately needed, and various parties are continuously working towards that goal.
For now, however, we have two encouraging thoughts to offer. The first is that programming can be introduced to children in many ways, so there is surely something for everyone. Second, in practice it may well be enough that what is studied in the classroom is in the so-called right direction. It is probably not very easy to do everything completely wrong.
Many schools have taken steps to learn more creative programming and have invested in, for example, programmable Lego robots. Pupils have programmed self-steering robot workers for the factories of the future and have completed toy figure rescue operations from extreme conditions such as the surface of Mars. The Lego robots are great for demonstrating how different devices collect sensory data from the environment and move automatically and autonomously.
On the other hand, the maker movement has started to again become popular. Instead of using ready technology, the maker culture focuses on tinkering with everyday devices yourself. Programmed soft toys, weather stations and miniature smart cities – built or modified from varying materials and programmed with Micro:bit mini computers – are impressive examples of recent multidisciplinary projects in schools.
Programming one’s own games could also be considered a subculture of the maker movement. Gaming is nowadays more popular than ever, but what would the game of your dreams be like? When programming a game with, for example, the Scratch programming environment, it is important to think how you can make the game usable and interesting, but above all creative and aesthetic.
Coding in schools is not an end in itself. It is not a performance in which you succeed or fail. It can be regarded more as a context for phenomenon- and inquiry-based learning, a way to seek an understanding of the digital world and skills for solving real-life problems with digital means. This also makes learning authentic and, most importantly, motivating.
Janne Fagerlund, Project Researcher
Department of Teacher Education
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