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Tech Class

The secret code for enthusiasm

A Toronto middle school teacher gets math classes going with lessons in computer programming.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo

Photo of Ryan Tindale, Ontario Certified Teacher in a classroom with students.
Denise Salsman, OCT, uses coding to get Grade 7 students enthusiastic about math.

THE CHALLENGE: Help students get excited about their educational journey.

THE SOLUTION: Introduce lessons in computer coding. Tie it in with math.

LESSONS LEARNED: Denise Salsman, OCT, wanted to get her students excited about what they were learning. This Grade 7 teacher at Charles Gordon Senior Public School in Toronto was particularly concerned about one boy. His grades were fine, but he lacked motivation. So she looked for ways to spark his enthusiasm, and discovered he enjoyed building and working on computers.

Salsman was offered an opportunity to have her class participate in EdApp-Hack - a board-run competition in which student teams develop software applications. She set aside class time (about 2.5 hours a day) to let students learn Apple's Xcode, a set of computer programs that people can use to create apps for Macs, iPhones and other Apple devices. The students also took that time to work on data management, presentation skills, and other capabilities they'd need to succeed in the competition.

The entire class - including the student Salsman wanted to engage - took part. Eventually they formed teams, with each crew working on a unique app.

With no previous coding experience, Salsman also learned along with the students.

The work paid off during the EdApp-Hack: one of the Charles Gordon teams made it into the Top 25 with an app focused on student mental health; and the lessons in coding had a positive effect on the student Salsman was trying to reach.

OBSERVATIONS: Salsman saw excitement sparked in other students, too. One honed her Xcode capabilitieson her own time and became something of a computer-coding mentor for classmates, developing leadership skills in the process.

Salsman discovered ways to link computer coding to the math curriculum, getting students to program robots to draw shapes (geometry) and follow an area grid (measurement). The results were encouraging: Comparing the first and second terms for the 2016-17 school year, 63 per cent of the girls and 62 per cent of the boys improved their grades in math concepts.

That might have to do with the way coding is taught. "It's hands-on," Salsman explains. "It's also [about] communication and collaboration," adding that coding helps students take an active role in their own education.

"The key words are ‘student voice' and ‘student choice.' If students are engaged in the inquiry process through their own thoughts and interests, the sky's the limit for them."

HELPFUL HINT: When you let your students figure coding out for themselves, they develop critical skills such as communication, problem-solving and resilience.

The College's professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media guides members' professional judgment in the use of technology.

You Can Do It Too!

Follow these steps:

  1. Have your class participate in projects such as the Hour of Code, a global computer-coding event.
  2. Check out tutorials from companies such as Apple, Codeacademy and SoloLearn.
  3. Link coding with lessons in measurement, geometry, patterning, algebra and other math subjects to reinforce the concepts.