Teaching code: beyond STEAM subjects

Founder of SAM Labs, Joachim Horn, looks at the importance of cross-curricular coding for students’ future careers

The benefits of kids learning to code are widely documented, but working out how to deliver coding into the school curriculum can prove challenging for teachers. To really understand how to write code, alter lesson plans to include it and, most importantly, to teach children this discipline effectively, we need to first provide teachers with a decent knowledge of computing.

Increasing this teacher confidence can only happen with the right upskilling and support in place. However, with state sector school budgets tighter than ever, teachers will not be able to get the support they need without clearly justifying the case for coding. They must demonstrate that teaching it can add further value across different subjects, and help develop a wider range of skills among students. Failure to do so puts coding at risk of being reserved for specialist classes. The majority then miss out on something that will be integral to any career path students eventually choose.

It’s now widely accepted that the workplace of the future will be underpinned by practices rooted in computing and coding. It might seem like a distant world where we need these skills to operate in non-STEAM focused careers, but the reality is that complex computing processes will increasingly support workplaces to assist with day-to-day efficiency, creativity and productivity. What’s more, employers will expect digital native generations to be proficient in many different applications of coding, in order to maximise the value of their skill sets while using these tools.

So how do we approach this inter-disciplinary method of coding in early education?

In many of the country’s schools that have been quicker to adopt coding, related activities have typically been tied to STEAM subjects. But it should go beyond helping children who are more science, mathematics, or computing minded. While coding does go hand-in-hand with methodical and process driven subjects, it can offer so much more in a variety of subjects. Coding allows artists, historians, geographers and more to explore, discover, and express themselves.

Take music, for example – you might not expect coding to reach across to such a practical subject, but children can use coding skills to learn how to play virtual musical instruments and programme them. They can create certain notes, edit the pitch and the sequence, essentially coding and writing their own songs. By doing so, children express themselves by crafting or following musical patterns, whilst also developing their coding skills. As the instruments and songs they interact with are virtual, pupils can enjoy a much wider choice of instruments from around the world that they might not otherwise have access to. This helps enrich their education, as the Music department is no longer limited to the physical instruments in the room.

By thinking of coding as a platform that helps inspire children in every class they take, we encourage them to look at these subjects with a new wave of excitement and intrigue. Coding itself becomes both a subject to learn and a gateway to becoming passionate about other topics. Enveloping the interests of different sorts of children in this manner, they can discover how coding fits their particular interests, and they will be likely to approach it more naturally. This will in turn help them expand their understanding of how coding can be applied across other disciplines, which will enable them to integrate it into a wider breadth of future working practices.

Coding itself becomes both a subject to learn and a gateway to becoming passionate about other topics.

In the classroom, coding can be as simple or as complicated as pupils feel comfortable with, which liberates teachers to adopt it into their lesson plans as little or as much as they like. However, the key to inspiring children to engage with coding lessons is lowering the boundary to entry as far as possible. If children experience different aspects of coding across the syllabus, they will begin to associate the skill with the very basis of how to understand a new subject, and adoption will be easier. This cross-curricular approach also means that coding kits represent higher value for the investment, as they are used throughout the school day instead of just in Computing lessons.

Ultimately, we’re now at a pivotal point in the adoption of coding as an established topic within UK school syllabuses. It is reliant upon us as teachers, policy makers and parents to ensure that children of all capabilities, interests and strengths learn to code. This starts with teachers who need to be rigorously trained to understand how to teach coding on its own, but also how to do so across subjects. With this ideological approach to teaching and learning code, we will successfully be equipping younger generations with the multifaceted, computing-based skills they need to compete in the workplace of the future.

SAM Labs is an edtech company that combines hardware and software to bring coding in the classroom to life. To find out more about SAM Labs’ vision for coding in schools, visit the website here.