Confessions of a Former Coding Teacher

Confessions of a Former Coding Teacher

Superintendent of Schools – My major in my B.Ed is in computer science. When I went to university in the late ’80s, I was the only new teacher (for about three years) graduating from from the College of Education that had a computer science major. At that time, computer science meant programming (or as we now call it, coding). If I did not get a teaching job after graduating, I was going to finish a B.Sc. in computer science and who knows where that might have led me.

Back in the day, when I first started teaching programming, it was BASIC and Pascal. I was pretty good at it and can still dabble in new languages like JavaScript and C++ given the transferable knowledge from those more primitive languages. I remember taking computer science in high school writing BASIC programs on Commodore Super-PET computers. When I first started teaching programming in Saskatoon, it started with Grade 10 students and progressed through to Grade 12. I was amazed by what my students could generate. When I left teaching coding in the late ’90s, we were using HTML and Visual BASIC.

Now coding is being embedded into curriculum starting in the earliest of grades. Just before I left BC, the Minister of the day announced that all students from K-12 would be involved in some form of coding throughout their K-12 career.

Five year olds, who cannot yet read, can learn and apply fundamental coding practices through drag and drop tools like Blockly. Apps can be created using fully online tools with no specific programming language knowledge nor specialized software. Groups are helping teach computer science concepts using popular genres like Minecraft, Star Wars and Frozen to appeal to young learners.

As you get older, coding skills are built and students increase their ability to be able to use computers not just to consume media, but to create apps to solve real world issues. The foundational concepts taught earlier are built upon and gradually become more sophisticated.

Very few teachers are trained in this world, but you just need the courage to explore with your students. There are many tools out there that guide you through an age appropriate process to get kids going. Let kids be the experts and allow them to support each other. Who knows, you might be the next teacher who can say, “yeah, I taught Suzie about programming and now she is the person who invented the latest killer app”.


Want to learn more? Try as a first step. Try hosting an Hour of Code event during the week of December 4-10 where your kids can join over 460 million other students who have given it a try. You do not need to be an expert to try this as the guides and tools are built for novice teachers/students. We have had a number of schools in RVS host an Hour of Code event previously and maybe this year you can join them.


Why are we learning this?

Why are we learning this?

Numeracy Specialist – I am often asked, “What is the difference between mathematics and numeracy?”

Although the difference is subtle, it is important to consider. For me, mathematics is the discrete abstract science of number, quantity and space. Numeracy, however, is something more. To be numerate means having the confidence and skill to use numbers and mathematical approaches in all aspects of life – in everyday activities at home, in our communities, in employment, as consumers, in managing our finances, as parents helping our children learn, or as patients making sense of health information. Numeracy transcends school and education as it is a way to make sense of the world around us.

So how do we as educators create numerate students?

When designing learning opportunities, it is important to keep in mind the goal is to create citizens who are numerate; therefore, the mathematics we see and do in our classrooms should be reflective of the numeracy we use in our lives. Learning experiences need to be designed so that they not only engage all learners, but the purpose of the learning is clear. We use math every day and as educators it is our job to let students experience this and make these connections for themselves. Lessons need to be designed with purpose in mind:

  • Don’t just divide fractions by flipping and cross multiplying; do share out the last two pieces of cake.
  • Don’t just use an abstract formula to calculate the area of a rectangle; do find out how much sod is needed for the backyard.
  • Don’t just measure lines and recognize symmetry; do create symmetrical artwork or build a piece of furniture.

Students need opportunities to gain mathematical fluency, reason about mathematics and solve problems to be numerate. We have a responsibility to teach students how to efficiently use mathematical procedures, to help them become fluent with number facts and to develop strategies to solve problems. But before students ask, “Why are we learning this?” answer the question for yourself first. Does this activity develop mathematical fluency that will be used or applied? Does this task make a student reason about the math they are doing and why they are doing it? Can the student see how this problem is real or relevant to their life or circumstance?

As the Numeracy Specialist for RVS, I am fortunate to be able to work with creative, inspiring educators across the district to design engaging and purposeful learning experiences for all learners. Together through the three pillars of fluency, reasoning and problem solving, we help students become numerate and make links between the math they do in school and the world around them.

For more information about numeracy in Rocky View Schools, please visit Making Numeracy Visible or for numeracy support contact Stacy Connolly.

A Glimpse of the Future

A Glimpse of the Future

Director of Human Resources – For those of us who haven’t spent much time on university campuses recently, the landscape has truly changed. Spending a few hours at the Werklund School of Education’s (University of Calgary) Interdisciplinary Learning Showcase last week left me energized and thrilled for the future of education! And it’s not just Werklund doing great work. Other institutions continue to chart new territory in learning and teaching, preparing tomorrow’s teachers for an ever-evolving classroom. Working directly with Mount Royal University, Ambrose University and Concordia University of Edmonton, I have the opportunity to learn first-hand of the great thought and planning going into teacher preparation programs throughout our province.

Last week’s Interdisciplinary Learning Showcase exemplified the potential that exists when we consider the possibilities in education. Second year students were challenged to develop engaging learning opportunities encompassing interdisciplinary rationale, in-depth collaboration with peers, a focus on all learners, inquiry and assessment.

Have you ever wondered about coyotes and people co-existing in Calgary? Or how Alberta’s heritage trees present links to our past? What about how society determines what is ethically acceptable in the current moment? Those are just a snapshot into the dozens of projects on display last week at the U of C! Learn more about what was showcased last week.

Having studied many, many years ago at the U of C, I can confirm today’s teacher preparation programs are very different from what I experienced many years ago. That’s not to suggest my experiences were inadequate; to the contrary, I believe I was well prepared for yesterday’s classrooms. When I look at the incredible work currently undertaken in Alberta’s universities, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

What are the Traits of Your Ideal Team Player?

What are the Traits of Your Ideal Team Player?

Superintendent of Schools – One of my favourite business/management-type authors is Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni has written 11 books, many reaching the national best seller list for his genre. His most ‘famous’ business book is likely The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, but other popular titles include: Silos, Politics and Turf Wars; Death by Meeting; and The Advantage.

Lencioni typically has about two-thirds of the book written as a story/fable with the final one-third connecting the story to research/practice. His books address leadership practices, how to enhance organizational health and build effective teams. I’ve read almost every one of his books due to personal and professional interest.

In the last month, I powered through (on a bus trip to/from Lethbridge for hockey) his latest book – The Ideal Team Player. It was an easy read as Lencioni used his fable approach to walk through a fictional situation whereby a new leader had to hire a new member to their leadership team. At the end of the book Lencioni circles back and tells readers what he believes are the three most essential virtues that an effective teammate must demonstrate. He shares his thoughts on the best way to identify if a person possesses those traits and how you can develop/enhance those traits if they require strengthening.

So, what would you describe as the three quintessential virtues that an effective team member must possess to be part of a high functioning team? What should we look for when trying to bring new people into a team? We all know people who a natural team players, but what do they demonstrate that makes us feel that way?

Lencioni boils it down to three critical virtues: humility, hunger and people smarts. If people demonstrate those traits then he says they will be a team member that others will embrace and collaboratively they will produce results. These ideal team players take every opportunity to praise and recognize others and shy away from the limelight. They are driven and highly self-motivated to take more things on, help out in different ways, and fill gaps in the team. They just “get” people and know how to get the best out of them while maximizing the effectiveness of each individual. Lencioni contents that when you can find a person that is humble and hungry with people smarts then you want them to be on your team.

If you want to borrow my copy, send me a note and you can borrow it. Want to learn a bit more without reading the book? Follow this link to find some resources ->


Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Principal, W.G. Murdoch School – This fall I’ve had the opportunity to transition into one of life’s most challenging roles: Hockey Dad. In between scoping out potential homes once my son makes it to the NHL (kidding) and running him around to rinks on Sunday morning at 7:00 AM, I’ve learned some important lessons.

Two times a week, Harrison takes the ice with 15 other keen five and six year olds to go through a variety of skating, shooting, and other drills intended to teach the little ones the basics of hockey. As parents, we’ve been encouraged to put our phones away and enjoy watching our kids play hockey. After a couple of practices, I see why. If Harrison got a nickel for every time he looked up at me or my wife for affirmation that what he was doing was special, he would be a rich man. Every circle of the ice, every shot on net, every time he catches a glimpse of one of us, the eyes go up to the stands, making sure we are watching.

Enjoying the groundbreaking ceremony at Building Futures

On one of those mornings, I reflected on how important giving students that same authentic audience is. As teachers (and parents) we’ve all been guilty of giving our kids ‘busy work’ to simply entertain them so we can have some time to ourselves. In my experience, the difference in the work received from ‘make work’ projects varies immensely from tasks that are designed with an authentic audience. Whether that audience is a potential client (like three of our students get to do this year with Building Futures) or an engaged classmate or teacher, ensuring timely, intentional feedback that occurs both during and after the task is critical. To relate it to the analogy of my son’s hockey, specific feedback about what I observed him doing on the ice, rather than “you did well son,” goes a long way.

No matter our age, we’re always looking for a level of affirmation that the work we’re doing matters. In the busyness of our days, let’s remember that our students care what we think about their work and that taking the time to show them that not only makes them feel validated, it also improves the learning environment.


W.G. Murdoch students learning about chemistry through hands on experiences with watermelons

Using Play Doh to learn about Plato in Origins of Western Philosophy