The faculty is careful not to force coding into the curriculum. They really view it as one tool of many to solve problems. There is no specific platform students must use to code. It’s really up to the student to choose the tool that makes the most sense, but Pencil Code has emerged as a popular platform for Beaver Country students.
“It’s designed to be accessible enough for kids who have no coding experience at all and also powerful enough to allow kids at the high end to do some fairly sophisticated work,” MacDonald says.
Teachers are coming up with some pretty creative ways to use coding in their classrooms. An English class, for example, used code to create very basic artificial intelligence. This allowed for a situation where students could have a “conversation” with a character from Macbeth, the play they were studying at the time. Students could type questions and the character answered based on what the student had typed. The students could then get a feel for which character they were talking to. Traditionally, students might take a quiz where they have to match a quote to the appropriate character to demonstrate their understanding of the play, but this assignment was far more interesting.
“It still gets at that same idea of understanding the character’s motivation, but in a much more engaging way,” MacDonald says.
A major benefit of Beaver Country’s coding initiative is that every girl who graduates from the school will know how to write code. Given the gender discrepancy in computer science and engineering fields, this is a point of pride for the school.
“Our goal isn’t necessarily for every girl to want to go into engineering or computer science, but our goal is for every girl in the school to know she could if she wanted to,” Hutton says.
Most of the teachers at Beaver Country had no programming experience prior to the coding initiative. The school has also carried out very little professional development around coding, which may seem surprising. The school offered faculty one dedicated day for technology professional development last year that featured three different sessions, but even those sessions covered very little coding. In fact, most of the professional development has been informal and has really come about through conversations between educators and peer-to-peer education.
“I’d say overall the response has been very positive,” MacDonald says. “We have teachers here who are used to taking risks and trying new things. We’ve got that kind of energy among the faculty.”