Tech Book Review: Coding in the Classroom

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If you’re a parent or educator, then you know that the recent push to emphasize STEM (Science Tech Engineering Math) education will often suggest that younger and younger students learn the fundamentals of programming. The problem is, teaching programing in a straightforward, easy to understand way can be difficult even with adult learners. How do you begin to introduce students to the topic?

Ryan Somma’s Coding in the Classroom tackles the issue head on, providing everything from lesson ideas to an overview of fundamental programming concepts. Recently published by No Starch Press, the book is easy to read while being full of useful, practical suggestions — which you’d expect from a company best known for fun, lighthearted introductory programming books.

Coding in the Classroom‘s Adaptability

When you decide to teach programming as a classroom subject, there are issues to deal with beyond how to explain arrays and exceptions. Will you have the resources available to get every student in front of a computer? Will you need to install some special software or convince your district to buy a bunch of proprietary licenses? In an era of remote learning, an educator can’t reliably expect unusual or proprietary software to be easily accessible for all students.

Resources have been a persistent problem when teaching younger students to code. Too many curriculums are built around dated looking, proprietary instructional software that is severely limited once you leave the confines of its repetitive drills. Somma gets around this problem brilliantly, building the entire curriculum around the kind of no-frills web browser available on everything from Chromebooks to aged desktop PCs.

The exercises and concepts in the book can all be taught and practiced with nothing more than the browser’s developer console — and a text editor if you want to get fancy. The book teaches ideas in JavaScript, so there’s no new programming language to install and nothing stopping students from practicing on any computer they have access to.

Context and Curriculum

Don’t worry, the text isn’t a collection of JavaScript drills devoid of substance. Classroom focuses on programming in the broader context of web design as a discipline. The book builds off of an early look at fundamentals, leading into more advanced tech topics like how larger projects develop and are built up over time.

For teachers and educators, the great value of the text is just how effectively it places individual concepts in context. There’s more to lesson planning and curriculum design than figuring out how to fill an afternoon class period. The ideas in this book are presented in a way that lets educators easily tie new concepts to concrete educational objectives.

The activities and lessons are presented in a simple and direct fashion. The idea here seems to be giving educators just enough material to build on. As an example: a later portion of the text ties the product development cycle of a software product to the Project Based Learning (PBL) framework educators have turned to in an attempt to put ideas in a more meaningful context. It’s one of many times the book pairs an important tech industry concept with a jumping off point for lesson planning.

That generalization extends to the target audience. With the book’s focus on generalized ideas and easily available software, teachers of nearly any discipline could adapt this to age groups ranging from late elementary school activity blocks to a starting point for full middle and high school classes.

If you’re a teacher, administrator, or parent looking to add some high tech fun to your lessons, Coding in the Classroom is highly recommended. You can order the book in print or ebook form directly from the publisher. If you want to get ideas for some basic web design topics you can cover with students, take a look at our Website Design Tutorials.

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