BlendNovation: Blended Learning for Parent and Child: The beginning of an experiment. #14 #cong17

By Sabine McKenna.

There are books on “Introducing your child to coding,” or “Coding for children for dummies” and similar tomes, of course. There are tons of videos available online to follow. There are websites that offer courses, free and paid.

And still – parents I talked to feel that their children are most likely to spend time on laptops or tablets (and increasingly smartphones) watching others do things. Or playing games that parents don’t quite approve of. And many projects and courses, once begun with so much enthusiasm, are cast aside after a short time. “Yeah, he started coding with that website, he was really excited. What he created? Actually, he never went back to it after the first time... Pity, really...” That, or similar, statements were very common when I talked to a dozen parents about their children’s interest in computers, and what they did about it.

The desire to see children succeed, be creative, and become better prepared for their digital future was palpable. So was the frustration, however, as most children spent their time watching videos or playing games, and even those who took up coding in some way or other did not pursue it further. How could that fascination with technology be channelled into productive, creative directions?

One common theme that I noticed was the wish to understand better what the children were doing.

So I decided to offer a three-week blended online course for parents and children together, introducing them to my favourite child-centred coding platform, Scratch (Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab; see Blended in that it would blend online, live sessions once a week with work done at home (albeit on the internet) between these sessions. Blended also in that it would focus on the children, but parents would “attend” the weekly sessions with them, the two at the same computer, the child (hopefully) with their hands on mouse and keyboard, the parents watching and learning alongside them, scaffolding the child’s progress and understanding.

This was something I hadn’t tried before, and as I am writing this, I am taking bookings for the first pilot course of this sort.

My hope is that by bringing learning back to the parent-child sphere, I am making it possible for parents to follow closely what their children are learning. Parents don’t have to become experts at Scratch coding – but they will have the opportunity to learn how to learn inside the platform. In future courses (which will be aimed at the children only), parents can be in the background, assisting where necessary but giving the children the freedom to explore and create. That way, the child will have someone to turn to when things don’t work in the first place (questions such as: What were you trying to do? What did you expect to happen? What happened instead? What could have made the difference? will work wonders!). The parent will be able to appreciate more clearly what the child is doing. Finally, applause where it is deserved! And: No more huge praise for something that is so very straightforward, the child feels embarrassed to be lauded for it.

Just like when learning how to ride a bike, parent and child are a perfect team for the very beginning. Once the child is able to cover a distance by themselves, it is time to let go and admire their progress from the sidewalk!

By the time Cong2017 comes around, the first iteration of this Parent and Child course will have taken place, and I will know whether my assumption is correct, that this blending of online class and parent-child learning; of material provided by a course leader (moi) and assistance given by a mother or father, is indeed a step in the right direction.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie