Since buying my first iPad in 2011, it has been my goal and my dream to integrate coding and literacy. Technology has changed over the past five years, but more importantly the mind and attitudes of my students' parents have changed. STEM or STEAM has been a hot topic in the West for a long time. However, here in Korea, the most connected country in the world, coding and computer science in schools has lagged far behind other nations. There are robotic camps and Saturday classes here for children, but there isn't a connection between those classes and what the children are learning in school. Furthermore, the skills they learn in the STEM like classes after school are not being encouraged or nurtured to prepare students for the future.
These days a new gadget for teaching students to code comes out every week. Some of these new products are innovative and would fit well in any classroom while others are gimmicky. When looking for new tools for teaching coding or STEAM, I judge products on three criteria: 1. Flexibility, can this device be used in different across content areas? 2. Cost, I don't mind paying a little extra if the tool is well made and durable. 3. Accessibility, what is the learning curve for the device? Will I have to hover over students to help them every time they run into a problem or will they be able to work independently?
A lot of the tools we purchased for our maker space and STEAM classes have fit all three categories. For example, the newest addition to our class, Littlebits meets all three criteria. Although Littlebits is expensive, the bits are well made, and the classroom support is second to none.
What drew me to Podpi was that students would learn how things work rather than just learning how to drag a block of code from left to right. "The complexity of today’s technology has been abstracted, and there seems to be no need to understand how things work anymore. Just download an app and run it or Just follow the steps.” Many apps or simple robots do not teach students the "How" only the "What." "Podpi fosters curiosity, creativity and perseverance through trial and error. Hands-on activities and circuit building are key elements coupled with programming to understand the relationships between the virtual and physical elements."
However, the biggest draw of Podpi was the literacy connection. Students read a large and colorful comic book with unique characters that support student learning through clever storytelling, diagrams, and hands on activities.
In the Classroom
I created a special Saturday morning class for two very eager young coders. Both students are in grade 3 and have a knack for coding. However, this would be their first time using a computer to write actual code. For the past two years my students have used iPads to learn coding, usually with a blocky coding language. However, because these two girls were keen on coding I thought it was time for them to try coding on a computer.
Right off the bat we ran into a few small hiccups. The first was neither girl had any typing experience. Both girls were used to smart phones and tablets, and had little experience using a computer. To combat this problem the girls took turns typing and giving instructions. This turned out to be great for the girls because they worked really well together and enjoyed sharing the work. The second problem was time. I only had them for an hour and it would take the full hour to complete each challenge. But, after spending the hour working on the challenge the girls felt a real sense of accomplishment when the task was complete.
I highly recommend Podpi for home or classroom. The instructions are well planned and the challenges increase in toughness over the course of each book. Podpi offers a mix of coding and hands-on activities that will keep students engaged for hours. We love the stories and my students eagerly await the next book each month. (The girls don't know that I have seven books already!) The team at Podpi are fantastic and their technical support is excellent. I've contacted them several times when I was stuck on a challenge for help and even with the huge time difference between the US and Korea, I've gotten real time help!