“Non-traditional” is a word that’s become revered in education. Schools don’t want to be seen as “traditional” anymore, not the good ones anyway. Traditional is synonymous with desks in rows and sage on the stage style teaching. Cutting-edge schools create learner-centric environments, they promote collaboration and critical thinking and provide students with web 2.0 tools and technologies. Cutting-edge schools look a lot like Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Beaver Country has a 1:1 laptop program that’s been in place since 2009 and a focus on differentiated instruction. In 2013, it became the first school in the U.S. to implement computer coding into its core curriculum.
“Most of our faculty had zero programming experience, but there is a mindset around here where people are willing to try new things and a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes,” says Robert MacDonald, Math department chair and English teacher at Beaver Country Day School. In fact, one of the school’s mantras is “make excellent mistakes,” a testament to its pioneering spirit.
It was MacDonald who had the idea to implement coding. He presented the idea to Peter Hutton, head of Beaver Country and Nancy Caruso, assistant head. Both were onboard from the start.
“Given the kind of school we are it made real common sense,” Hutton says. And, given the kind of school Beaver Country is, faculty and administrators never considered making a designated class for coding. It was always going to be an integrated approach.
I think it’s important we don’t look at coding as a thing. I think that’s a mistake that people make, thinking it’s a thing out there all on its own. It’s a problem solving tool, not a thing,” Hutton says.
Originally, the school planned to pilot coding in geometry class, where students use logic reasoning and spatial skills, two things that are also involved in coding. The idea was to drum up enthusiasm for coding so that it would eventually expand into other subject areas where its use made sense. However, shortly after Beaver Country implemented its coding initiative, teachers in other disciplines took notice and began to express interest rather quickly.
“It was throughout the English department, art teachers, history teachers, science teachers, they were all intrigued with what kind of impact this might have with how they could think about curriculum for our kids. That really took us by surprise,” Hutton says.