Computer coding adds to real-life skills in London area maths lessons

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The Thames Valley District School Board is innovating the way it teaches computer coding to ensure that children studying in Ontario’s new math curriculum can apply this skill outside of class – and eventually at work.

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Students in grades 1 through 12 learned coding in math, and many have already started learning it in science class. Coding, or computer programming, is giving a specific set of instructions to a computer to make it do what you want it to do.

“One of the big things we want to emphasize is that we’re taking coding beyond the school and into the environment,” said Derek Tangredi, K-8 math learning coordinator. with the council.

There is a shortage of computer programmers in Canada and much of the western world.

Although coding was introduced to math classrooms in 2021, Ontario recently announced that it is also revising its elementary science curriculum, including a new section involving hands-on technology, learning about engineering and more coding.

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The curriculum has been overhauled due to advances in science and technology since the curriculum was last updated in 2007, the Department of Education said.

The new universal grade 9 science course, which includes a section exploring science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and related skilled trades, is due to begin in September.

Tangredi teaches coding to students in Thames Valley using small, powerful microcontrollers called Micro:bits that students use to map the distance around the school perimeter.

“We focused heavily on using unplugged coding,” he said. “Coding doesn’t necessarily require a computer or technology.”

Students essentially code their own controller to calculate the square footage and perimeter of the school, Tangredi said.

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“The reason we use the Micro:bits is that it actually allows us to detach the coding by going beyond the (computer) screen in those areas,” he said. “Mathematics and science curricula focus heavily on things in real-world context and are directly involved with the environment.”

Tangredi, who also teaches teacher candidates coding at Western University, said the Thames Valley council is also trying to “revolutionize the way professional development is done.

“We’ve ordered Micro:bits for each school and are now doing live professional development with teachers and students during the day,” he said. “Coaches go to classrooms during school hours.”

Tangredi said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

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“What’s really fun is that it creates multiple paths to success for kids,” he said. “Some of our most reluctant learners thrive in this environment.”

Typically, in math class, a student is penalized for getting the answer wrong “so they’ll be reluctant to raise their hand,” Tangredi said.

“In coding, you’re actually encouraged to make mistakes, and then we do remixing or debugging,” he said. “Some of the best results come from making mistakes.”

The council also created a new STEM and robotics website “to democratize coding and STEM learning.

“STEM toys and tools can be extremely expensive, so we try to take a strong stance on equity at the board level,” Tangredi said. “We’ve created a new website with resources available from K-9 so the progression of learning can continue.”

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