Students speak in code…but are teachers listening?

Students speak in code…but are teachers listening?

A collaborative coding class launched by Turramurra High School Year 12 student, Joshua Cahill, attracted 50 students in two days, demonstrating a significant demand for the 21st century skill at the school.

What’s more, principal, Stephanie McConnell, explained how students – not teachers - are leading the charge in teaching code – a process she said is helped along by her school’s ‘empowerment model’, which encourages students to take initiative.

“From an educational leadership point of view, the model of leadership I value is an empowerment model, which looks at empowering students, staff and parents to take initiative within the school,” McConnell told The Educator.

McConnell said Cahill approached her with the idea for the coding class with the aim of enhancing performance in the learning areas that interested students most.

“Josh also thought about the sustainability of the project – designing it to be inclusive so that everyone had a chance to thrive. When you get a group of interested people together, they learn from one another.”

Microsoft’s WeSpeakCode conference at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) on Friday showcased the “endless possibilities” that coding can offer students across all learning disciplines.

The conference highlighted how learning to code helped two postgraduate medical students, Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, create an app which analyses pictures of the inside of the eyelid to diagnose severe anaemia with 95% accuracy.

The two students - dubbed Team Eyenemia – won the Microsoft Imagine Cup, the world’s premier student technology competition.

McConnell agrees that coding may have applications well beyond the walls of ICT classes at her school but said few teachers are familiar with the skill.

However, two teachers – one from the English faculty and the other a PE teacher – participated in Cahill’s coding class to explore what the technology could offer their disciplines.

“Both teachers are quite innovative and work collaboratively with their staff so I would be interested in exploring that potential, because I think there is a lot that could be done, McConnell said.

“It is certainly a means by which we can break out of that silo mentality.”

McConnell said that the “dictatorial” style of school leadership has to change in favour of a more collaborative model that supports groups being able to share ideas, and that coding is an effective way of achieving this.

Those who are late to the coding party needn’t feel daunted, said McConnell.

“There’s now a sense of coding being a ‘stage-not-age’ type of thing. It’s not about how old you are but how good you are at it.

“This was one thing that inspired Josh – to be able to work collaboratively with other students so he could pass the baton to the next group who will continue coding after he leaves at the end of the year.”