The online world is taking its first solid steps towards understanding how to use coding as a learning tool.
Although there are countless coding programs, that the movement as a whole is in its infancy because oversights for certain communities remain. Addressing one such oversight is Craig Smith, the Deputy Principal of Newcastle’s Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism.
Smith, alongside fellow educator Heath Wild developed ‘Coding for Life’, a number of guides for their students, modelled to help them use coding skills to solve everyday problems. Having previously spoken to Techly about the program he put together to help students on the spectrum make the most of Pokemon Go, Smith caught up with Techly again to explain why Coding for Life is a unique way to enhance our understanding of coding.
Smith begins by talking about Swift Playgrounds, Apple’s app which has been used widely as an educational tool.
“Our kids loved it,” Smith explains,”but we realised that there were many early learning experiences that our kids need to get before jumping into coding. The more we talked about it, the more we released how many interesting life lessons could be learned through coding. We thought about the fundamental skills taught by coding, like doing things in a logical sequence, “what if” statements and learning to forecast.”
Those “life lessons” form the basis of Smith’s work at the Aspect Hunter School in order to teach and encourage independence in students. As such, it only made sense to integrate the school’s core principles with the learnings of Swift Playgrounds.
Smith offers an example of how the Swift Playgrounds framework can help a student on the spectrum to make sense of daily life – “One of the big challenges for our young kids on the spectrum is getting ready for school…being able to wake up, get clothes on, and pack bags. Something like getting dressed needs to be broken down into a sequence like undies first, then shorts, socks, and shoes.”
“It’s one of those things with autism, where we have four-year-olds who struggle with getting ready, and then we’ve got twelve-year-olds who struggle with getting ready but are super academic and technologically savvy. They’re actually better at Swift Playgrounds than getting ready in the morning.”
The element of gamification helped all groups involved – students, teachers, families – to think laterally about tasks and routines, and to find common ground. Smith recounts an English family who’d noticed a huge change in the way their child relayed his emotional and social states. Having resonated with the language used in ‘Coding for Life’, the child began to use phrases like “I think I’m having a glitch in my mind, just want to backspace that choice I’ve just made, just want to pause”.
Having discovered a common language to properly express himself, this student was able to make a link between their experiences and the social and emotional experiences of others which, as Smith explained, is a big deal. Although the course is structured around encouraging independence and fostering individual growth, Smith concedes that he’ll have to rethink the language used throughout ‘Coding for Life’, looking out for simple improvements he can make.
The best thing about Smith’s constant rewriting and perfecting of his iTunes courses is that they can be used universally, although ‘Coding for Life’ is particularly advantageous for kids on the spectrum, because their starting points are often different to those at non-specialty schools. “The idea of building independence through the language of coding is universal,” Smith affirms, “but is especially pertinent to our kids on the spectrum”.
If you’ve never tried Swift Playgrounds, or even if you’d like to try using coding in a more accessible way, check out the ‘Coding for Life’ course here.