Author Brian Dill Explores the Impact of Coding and Robotics on Student Development
The field of programming and specifically coding and robotics is an immensely important one. As a veteran educator in the FET school environment I have taught both Information Technology and Computer Applications Technology for many years. The demand for these two computer subjects has increased massively in recent years. One of the reasons for this is the realisation that a person needs good computer skills in order to function effectively in the modern work space.
As an educator that primarily teaches coding in Information Technology and who is also the lead teacher in our Grade 8 and 9 Coding and Robotics program, I have first-hand experience of the value that these subjects can add to a student’s life. Our school has been selected as one of the pilot schools for the draft Coding and Robotics syllabus. The two hours a week that I spend with the young learners is massively rewarding. They are so excited to learn new skills and I love the way in which they naturally engage in problem-solving without even realising that they are doing it and working hard at the same time. The problem-solving skills they acquire help them to perform better in all their subjects, not just when they are coding. They not only learn problem-solving, but also to be resilient, to learn from their mistakes, and to work as a team while showing mutual respect to their classmates. These are skills that they will carry with them throughout their working career and beyond.
I am extremely excited to be part of the team that has been developing teaching and learning materials for these new courses for the TVET sector. The combination of these three subjects will empower students with a wonderful skill set and I hope that someday the syllabi in the FET sector will develop something similar.
The hands on experience that students gain when combining coding with robotics and electronics makes tackling what many people believe to be a really tough subject area, so much less daunting. Students have great fun when engaging with the robotics element and do not even realise that they are simultaneously involved in intense problem solving and learning to code. The environment is conducive to better skills acquisition as it is much less threatening than embarking on learning only a text based programming language.
The process of designing solutions and learning to code is a highly creative one. This means it also appeals to the artistic design side of a person. The thrill of getting a robot or electronic circuit to perform successfully based on what your program has instructed it to do is immensely rewarding. When a student receives such tangible positive feedback from the item they have produced, it immediately stimulates the desire to learn and do more. This study area comes with its own built in reward system that fuels the desire to achieve more.
It is exciting to see coding and robotics being introduced to learners and students from quite a young age now. This will no doubt provide our country with a whole new generation of problem solvers and innovators. The added beauty is that learning to code using robotics and electronics has no age barrier. Anyone can embark on this rewarding path at any stage of their life.
I believe that this exciting new syllabus will prove to be very rewarding for both the lecturers and the students. I am a natural learner who craves new knowledge all the time. I love that I learn something new each day, some of it through my own enquiring mind and some during my daily teaching of coding. It is important that an educator or lecturer shares their learning and their excitement about learning with their students. Your enthusiasm and sense of wonder will surely inspire them to embark on a life of learning and growth. Any professional in any of the many fields found in the world of computing must be prepared to engage in learning every day as this career choice involves constant change and innovation.
Some tips about teaching coding to the novice:
- Start slowly.
- Beware of using a programming vocabulary that is beyond the student’s comprehension at the start. Remember that there are many new terms that they would probably never have heard in their lives before.
- Be mindful that this can a daunting experience unlike anything the student has attempted before.
- Repeat the basics often, but be firm that the students must know and retain the rules and syntax of the programming language they are using. Many a student will falter because they do not know and retain the basic rules and syntax without which they cannot progress and embark on the problem-solving challenges that writing computer programs presents.
- Teach the students to break up complex programming problems into smaller steps, and to focus on getting each small aspect of the program to work instead of becoming bewildered and discouraged by trying to tackle all the aspects of a complex program at the same time.
- Watch that the quiet student is not getting left behind because they are too shy or too afraid of appearing inadequate to ask when they do not understand something.
Brian is a veteran educator in the FET schools environment with thirty-seven years of High School experience and have taught both Information Technology and Computer Applications Technology for many years. He is the Deputy Principal: Administration, ICT & Information Systems at Fairmont High School as well as the Subject Head for Information Technology.
Brian’s qualifications include a Bachelor of Science, a Higher Diploma in Education, as well as a Diploma in Java Programming. He is also an author/ co-author on over 30 computing textbooks ranging from computer applications, programming as well as coding and robotics titles.