Phenomena connect subject areas, teachers and classes into new forms of collaboration. To ensure that groups of students can express themselves, the range of working methods should be sufficient. Coding is a form of creative expression that allows for the creation of interactive media. Coding should be one additional learning tool next to reading, writing, calculation and drawing – especially in phenomena based projects.
Phenomena based teaching
In phenomena based teaching multiple subject areas are merged into one phenomenon, which various student groups study in their own projects. The shared phenomenon is the link between all projects, but typically all groups have a lot of freedom to decide their own project’s goals, results and working methods.
The Finnish National Agency for Education defines a phenomenon as “an interesting natural or societal event, or an emotional experience, that can be physically sensed”.
Teachers need to ensure that student groups’ projects are suitably challenging. No project should be routine, but nor should they be too ambitious. And each project should of course suitably advance each learner’s individual learning goals.
Teachers from several subject areas need to cooperate in a phenomena based project. Two subject area teachers are a minimum, but a campaign that involves the staff and students of an entire school or multiple schools is also possible. And nothing is stopping a classroom teacher from utilising phenomena based teaching in virtually all their teaching, as a classroom teacher (in Finland) teaches most subjects anyways.
Project based learning
Projects in school is quite similar to projects in working life. A project has a duration, people, resources, and goals. Resources include equipment, tools and materials.
In the era of digital information, knowledge is no longer a finite resource. Back in the day getting access to a certain book needed to be ensure, but nowadays the internet is filled with information and misinformation. Of higher importance are the working methods the project participants are using, as well as the tools they have.
It is often the expectation in working life that employees master the tools and methods well enough to work efficiently. There is more flexibility in a learning situation, as the learning of new tools and working methods is part of the desired outcome.
Modern working methods and skills
The methods of an information worker have traditionally been reading, writing and calculation. One can add to this list many cognitive skills which the Finnish national curriculum and its competence areas cover nicely.
In the current technological society the possibilities provided by modern computing in self-expression and communications should be taken into account. Just being able to read and calculate were fine when all work was done with pen and paper, but with computers we do have other skills that would be useful.
Drawing, composing, photography, sound recording, video recording, multimedia editing, and online publishing are examples of skills that the current media landscape expects, and which should be learned at school.
Email, forums, wikis, blogs, social media, instant messaging, meems, visual storytelling and communication subcultures are examples of skills needed when communicating.
Coding as a working method
Perhaps the noblest skills in computing is the ability to command a computer, aka programming, aka coding. When coding, the human is the master and decides what the machine should do to solve a problem or to reach a certain outcome. And coding (just like writing) is best learned by practicing. Therefore it makes sense to code in primary school.
Now, coding may sound technical and mathematical, but coding is in fact creative self-expression in multiple media modalities. And yes, since a computer is stupid, a programmer must explain their intentions very exactly. This explanation requires clarity of thought and logical thinking. But what one attempts to accomplish by programming is much more creative and valuable.
Likewise, the fundamentals of drawing letters are quite technical and require fine motor skills, but writing a novel is creative self-expression. An author still needs those letters, but they are a side thought.
Programming allows one to externalise one’s thinking in a modern way. The final results can be a digital story or an interactive creation (such as a game), where the skills of coding, visual expression, story telling, music and imagination combine.
So when you are starting a new project with your students, give them the option of utilising coding in their work. Modern coding tools are suitable already for 5 year olds, so they can be used to quickly and easily produce interactive media just the way the learners want.
The teacher does not need to be a professional programmer, but some basic skills and understanding is good to have. Those can be acquired from many sources, including Code School Finland’s teacher guides.