A new approach to coding unlocks student potential | State and region

A West Virginia University instructional design expert is looking to break the code of the traditional elementary school classroom.

Here’s what Ugur Kale envisions: In a senior elementary classroom in West Virginia, children learn about access to food. It’s an issue that affects many of their families, who might buy groceries with WIC or live far from a supermarket.

They’re learning — but they’re not reading, filling out worksheets, listening to their teacher, or watching videos. They code. Working in groups and collaboratively, students create their own simulation game, unique to nutritional barriers in their community, that teaches them about their world when they play it.

In October, Kale, an associate professor in the College of Applied Human Sciences, will launch an initial teacher education project that will realize his vision by spring 2024.

With National Science Foundation funding totaling $294,958 and collaboration with CAHS assistant professor Yuanhua Wang, Kale will prepare elementary education majors at WVU not to teach computer science, but to use technology. as a tool, a means for their students to actively explore and engage with diverse topics in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, courses.

But Kale isn’t interested in “the traditional way of teaching STEM, which reflects a disconnected array of S, T, E and M,” he said. He wants children to use technology to experience many forms of science, and to use science to master technology.

“Prospective teachers need to be able to better prepare their students for the job market and be part of a STEM-literate audience,” he said.

Kale’s crusade to make coding a common tool for kindergarten classroom engagement will first focus on teachers in training at WVU’s Elementary Education Teacher Education Program.

As part of their basic science methodologies courses, 100 trainee teachers will modify existing lesson plans from the schools where they are trained to incorporate coding and computational approaches. Then they will design their own comprehensive lesson plans to teach at their placement schools.

Along the way, Kale will conduct research: testing approaches, studying challenges, measuring participants’ experiences.

The future teachers of certain preliminary workshops begin to understand. They discussed creating computer games and simulations to teach about the predator-prey life cycle, the concept of gravity, the transformations of solids into liquids and gases, or the availability of public spaces for exercise.

If you’re wondering if science teachers are all going to have to become hackers, Kale explained that “knowing how to code is just one part of integrating this kind of computational thinking to teach effectively. Knowing what to teach and how to teach it is equally important. Kale will introduce them to block-based programming software like Scratch, which allows a relative novice to design.

Scratch is the platform that participating future teachers will use to develop the lesson on access to food, modifying their approaches based on factors such as the grade level they are teaching. Kids can adjust variables such as the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables or whether a family is hunting or gardening, then watch the simulation change.

Another activity developed by Kale for students in West Virginia involves plotting and predicting cucumber germination conditions and results using Excel, while a third uses the “Minecraft” video game to help a small family farm assess how investing in an agricultural robot might affect their business.

Kale pointed to accomplishments like CodeWV’s success in increasing access to computer science education in 53 of West Virginia’s 55 counties, but he pointed out that “elementary readiness still lags behind.”

He declared CodeWV – a partnership for computer science professional development between the WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education, the West Virginia Department of Education and Code.org – promote the coding initiative statewide.

The Center of Excellence in STEM Education has been closely involved in Kale’s planning and fundraising. Director Gay Stewart said, “The Center is working hard to help WVU achieve its goal of improving prosperity in the state. Expanding access to computer education is essential. We were delighted to support Dr. Kale in raising funds for this project, which has the potential to greatly enrich resources for teaching elementary computer science and, extremely importantly, computational thinking.

“Self-expression, connection, questioning” – Kale admits these aren’t words typically associated with computing. Neither curiosity nor creativity nor agency, but he believes these qualities are exactly what programming expertise can enliven in children.

By the time its grand experiment wraps up or moves to its next phase in the fall of 2025, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 elementary students in West Virginia’s science and math classrooms will have taken the first step playing games and using simulations to create them.

Comments are closed.