in Teaching Strategies

How to Introduce Coding Into Every Subject — And Why You Should

For years, educators have placed coding in a technological box. Kids learn coding in the computer science classroom—which is either an elective in schools or not offered at all. There’s no space for programming in the music classroom, the language arts class, or in poetry lessons. However, as our knowledge and exploration of technology grows, so does our realization that coding is an asset to any classroom, regardless of the subject.

Here’s why you should incorporate coding into your lesson plan along with some tools to get started with creative class tutorials.

Coding Isn’t Just for Programmers and Computer Scientists

If there’s one idea we focus on at Ozobot, it’s the concept that coding in and of itself isn’t necessarily a skill that will be required over the next several decades. Languages change and technology improves. In a few years, robots could be doing the bulk of the coding, but the logical thinking, creativity, and problem solving skills learned through coding will still be the domain of humans.

“Creativity will increasingly be the defining human talent,” writes Tom Hulme, general partner at Google Ventures. “Our education system should emphasize the use of human imagination to spark original ideas and create new meaning. It’s the one thing machines won’t be able to do.”

Instead of thinking about coding as the act of sitting in front of a computer building websites, it should be seen as learning how to reach goals and solve problems.

“At its most basic, learning how to code is learning to tell machines what to do,” Marianne Stenger at InformEd writes. “But this requires the mastery of a problem-solving skill known as computational thinking, which involves breaking larger tasks into a logical sequence of smaller steps, diagnosing errors, and coming up with new approaches when necessary.”

Joel Lee, editor-in-chief of MakeUseOf, cites four studies from 1999 to 2013 highlighting how cognitive activities like coding can make our brains sharper and give us the tools to succeed in other areas. Cognitive thinking is a muscle. Those who constantly test themselves and engage in new ideas build the muscle so it can be used later. The act of coding as a fun activity is no different than taking your brain to the gym to lift weights.

“Coding in the classroom isn’t just for job preparedness,” explains Chrissy Hellyer, edtech consultant and founding partner at Eduro Learning. “Other than the obvious practical skill of coding, teaching coding in your classroom can help students learn other important skills that will help them be successful lifelong learners.”

Coding is An Incredibly Creative Process

Once you bust the myth that coding is just for future engineers and computer scientists, you can break down the beliefs that programming is only meant for hyper-logical thinkers and left-brained individuals. “We tend to think of creativity as a right-brain function, but the most creative thinkers and problem solvers can effectively engage both hemispheres,” notes the team at Tynker. They explain that this idea of “whole brain thinking” is how Steve Jobs built Apple.

By engaging students creatively and logically, they take ownership of the work, using logical thinking and creative problem solving to reach their end goals.

Coder Charlie Hulcher uses the beautiful metaphor of drawing with charcoal to show how in art and in programming, both sides of the brain are activated.

If you want to create something with charcoal, you likely won’t produce a masterpiece on the first try. You’d first have to learn how to handle the material, how to smudge it to create softer lines, and ultimately how to control it to create the piece you want. Using charcoal takes practice and comes with its own rules and ideas. Coding is the same. Programmers can create art the more they play with code, but it requires practice and knowledge of the medium.

Plus, coding allows kids to get off of the sidelines and use programming as a medium to achieve their goals.

The team at Kajeet emphasizes that coding is inclusive and builds self-confidence. The skill of coding is equally available to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or age. The reward a student feels when creating something on his or her own is almost unmatched. This is a transferable skill for almost any subject. Kids will feel empowered and excited to create things on their own. They will want to get their hands on art and try it for themselves after they learn about it. The students become creators, not passive consumers.

Coding Improves Writing and Language Skills

If coding is so creative, how can it be used in creative classroom subjects? Dr. Matthew Lynch, editor at The Tech Edvocate, makes an argument specifically for how coding can actually make students better writers. He lays out several reasons proving that writing skills and programming overlap:

  • Coders are storytellers. They explore information in a set order and discuss a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Coders are careful with their words. The commands they use and the code they write depends on their vocabulary.
  • Coders plan what they are going to do. They have to develop a strategy and process for execution.
  • Coders follow rules. In the same way that students learn grammar rules, coders learn how to make their code work through detailed explanations.

By incorporating coding lessons, students can become better writers through skill development. This also gives language teachers a space to engage students who might not like writing, even if they do like programming.

Writing skills also make students better coders. Software engineer Natalie Villasana is proof of this. After graduating with a degree in creative writing, she took a programming bootcamp and loved it. It kicked off her whole career. “I [understand] the importance of the review process because of my background in creative writing,” she tells Imogen Crispe at CourseReport. “In coding, when your team is working on different parts of the codebase, you should be able to explain how those parts fit together; that goes for both writing and programming.”

Villasana also excels at program documentation which explains to non-tech team members what they are building and why.  

Coders and Poets Can Work Hand-In-Hand

The relationship between code and language has always been tightly knit, to the level where some programmers use poetry to help them learn different languages.

German designer and front-end developer Murat Kemaldar shares his story of how words in the English language he thought he understood developed new meanings in the world of programming, leaving him incredibly confused when he was learning to code. As a solution, he used poetry to improve his development skills by breaking poems and sentences into code. Instead of complex commands and rules, he added phrases like “once upon a time,” something any student can follow and understand. Through poetry, he was able to better grow his programming skills.

Kemaldar isn’t the only one who has built this connection. There is a whole subculture of programmers creating poetic art through code. Nađa Božović at web design agency PopArt Studio curated a few examples and anthologies of poems written in programming languages to bring light to this medium.

“Although made for communication with computers, it does not mean that Java, Python, SQL, Ruby, CSS, or HTML should not be used for poetic word flow and rhymes, too,” she writes. “That is exactly what some web developers have created along the way, while delving into the world of dots, slashes, brackets, numbers, structures, and algorithms.”

In particular, Božović points to a contest called Source Code Poetry where you can submit your best poems written with code. There are examples of past poems that convey messages through the development of code.

Coding Can Help in Music Class

Once you recognize the relationship between coding and writing and poetry, adding music is the next logical step. It should come as no surprise that musicians across the spectrum often enjoy programming challenges and learning how to code.

“Thanks to their performance background, attention to detail, and innate need to perfect their parts, musicians tend to be analytical, logical, and methodical—skills that the best coders also possess,” writes Anthony Hughes, cofounder of Tech Elevator.

He cites and interviews several examples of musically-inclined programmers who use their love of the arts and music to enhance their technological knowledge. When these analytical skills are paired with creativity, art (either in music or code form) is created.

Hughes addresses the why, but Dyan Branstetter, a third-grade teacher in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, addresses the how. She created a tutorial for an Hour of Code for her music class, directly drawing a line between music and programming. Any music teacher can pick up this idea and apply it to their own classroom.     

Are Your Ready to Bring Coding to Your Classroom?

If you need a place to start to bring code to your class and subject, there are plenty of resources on the web.

Education professional and elementary curriculum specialist Tammy Pankey showcases 20 ways to introduce coding across the curriculum, from math and social studies, to english language arts. You can bring these ideas directly into your classroom, or use her list as a starting point to develop your own lesson plans.
At Ozobot, we created guides for introducing STEAM concepts, like coding, to your school with the help of parent volunteers. This is a valuable guide for tapping into the parental resources around you.