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Image courtesy of Spacex.com

We’re Going to Mars, and We’re Going to Need Programmers to Get There

Helping teachers to grasp new technology has, over the years, been a challenge, as any school technology coordinator will tell you. Sitting in staff meetings when the proverbial naysayers question the direction of technology in the classroom is a routine part of the process. You listen, and continue to point the train toward the future.

In my role as STEAM Coordinator and tech educator for that past 10 years, I’ve seen classroom technology evolve from webquests to Web 2.0 to collaborative documents spearheaded by Google Apps (now known as G-Suite). Google Apps were all the rage in 2009, and I got accepted into the Google Teacher Academy that year as a Google Certified Innovator. For the next 6 or 7 years, I spent a lot of that time riding the Google Apps for Education wave and working with teachers to implement Google Apps and Chromebooks in their classrooms.

I’m happy to say that after 8 years, Google Apps for Ed has finally arrived. It’s become part of the everyday lives of students and teachers all over the country. Is there much more Google can really do to improve Docs, Sheets, Drive, Slides and the others? There has been very slow development and improvement to these apps over the past couple of years. What this means for schools and technology is that Google Apps has now become part of the ed tech vernacular. With Google Apps becoming more ubiquitous, teachers and students are using them, so we can all celebrate this milestone: Google has finally become the Microsoft of education. It’s everywhere.

That being said- real technology integration has to now move beyond how to write on a collaborative document, wiki, or presentation. Blending STEAM into the classroom and using the tools of the modern maker is the next big step. Elon Musk just laid out his plans for Mars colonization, and I can tell you this: we’re going to need to science the s*** out of our students’ curriculum, if we want them to take part in that future. To make that happen, we’re going to need better tools that engage our students with fun, rigor, and authenticity. Those tools should involve programming- and one of my favorites is Tynker.

My daughter just asked me tonight, “Dad, might I be going to Mars someday?” This is no longer a dream, but inching closer to reality. In order to get there, we have to start teaching our kids how to build their own digital products and apps, engineer their own software, and empower them to create the next Google. We need them to create the next solution that helps bring down the cost of sending one person to Mars (currently $10 billion/person).

The only way we do this is by teaching them how to code- starting in preschool. Knowing how to program should be just as important as knowing how to speak, write, spell, paint, or play an instrument. Between self-driving technology and colonizing Mars, I can tell you that I don’t want our students to be taking selfies from the launchpad; I want them to be integral parts of building this future. This future begins with code.

If you’ve ever taken part in Hour of Code, you’ve probably had your students use Tynker. Tynker was one of the most popular tools during Hour of Code, and my mantra over the past year has been this: we need more than an Hour of Code, we need a YEAR of code. In the past, here at Quest, we patched together courses from Code.org and Codecadamy.com in order to make progress with our students, but we needed more. At the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in Denver this summer, I met Krishna Vedati. I was immediately taken by his passion for Tynker, the coding company that he co-founded.

I found that Tynker does something that other coding tools don’t; it helps teachers integrate computer programming into other domains like social studies, math, science, English. This is a tool that connects the dots.

As a whole, Tynker not only offers courses that allow students to learn independent mastery of computer science concepts and skills, but it empowers teachers by offering STEM lessons that tie directly to the domains that they teach. As any technology teacher or integrator will tell you, finding a “hook” for classroom teachers to grasp onto is often the biggest challenge. You can show off some of the most amazing iPad or Chrome apps at a meeting, but if teachers don’t see how those apps connect to their curriculum, it doesn’t matter. Those tools will go unused.

Tynker makes the conversation about integrating STEAM into the classroom one of the easiest I’ve ever had. Social studies teachers who want a new way to do timelines now can have their kids code a timeline.

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An interactive timeline, created with Tynker.

Math teachers who want students to put their math skills to authentic use can have their kids code a coordinate plane, and then plot the points.

A coordinate plane coded in Tynker.

English teachers can now have kids code their own games that help them write interactive poems, interactive book reports or presentations, or help them with word sorting. The difference here is that they’re not just playing these games- they’re hacking them! They’re modding them and customizing them to their own learning.

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A word sorting came, coded with Tynker.

When I show this to other teachers or administrators, their heads nod in a “yes” formation. Why wouldn’t you add coding as part of your curriculum now? What would hold you back? And to compare with Scratch and Code.org platforms, the data view of the teacher dashboard helps you know if kids are getting the concepts, it aligns with standards, and shows if they need more practice. It goes above and beyond what any other coding tool offers.

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The Tynker dashboard showing concepts mastery

So, if you’re a school administrator, tech director, or curriculum director- don’t wait for computer science to be mandated by the state or your district; take advantage of these tools now, and get your kids coding as early as possible.

We’re starting with preschoolers. Imaging what they’ll be able to make when they’re in high school or college having this experience?

Will your kids be coding their way to Mars? Let’s hope so!

Daniel Rezac is the STEAM Coordinator for Quest Academy in Palatine, IL. He’s also the producer of Maker Faire Palatine and EdCamp Illinois.

Follow him on Medium at Daniel Rezac and on Twitter here.

Written by

Education Community Manager @ Tynker.com, Maker Faire Producer, EdCamp Illinois Organizer, Illinois Computing Educator. Proud Maker.

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