Coding support for teachers

Shulman (1986) described how testing teacher knowledge and competence in subject matter is not a new idea or practice. Historically, teachers were tested on skills in literacy and numeracy, losing points for different errors. Tests were focused on content and subject matter to be taught. However, today’s teachers are assessed on their “capacity to teach,” focusing on, “organization in preparing and presenting instructional plans, evaluation, recognition of individual differences, cultural awareness, and understanding youth” (Shulman, 1986). Shulman’s view encompasses what British Columbia’s Ministry of Education introduced with the redesigned curriculum model. The “Know-Do-Understand” model contains three elements, “the Content (Know), Curricular Competencies (Do), and Big Idea (Understand) all work together to support deeper learning” (BC Ministry of Education, 2015). Shulman’s view on the role of the teacher demonstrated that there was a greater need than competence in subject matter and knowledge from the teacher, but rather providing a learning environment where students take ownership over their learning. “Teaching necessarily begins with a teacher’s understanding of what is to be learned and how it is to be taught. It proceeds through a series of activities during which the students are provided specific instruction and opportunities for learning, though the learning itself ultimately remains the responsibility of the student” (Shulman, 1987).

PCK includes a fusion of knowledge about pedagogy, content, and pedagogical knowledge, with the addition of specialized knowledge. TPACK extends further by including a specialized knowledge of technology, and how it can provide opportunities for deeper learning and enhanced learning communities. Mishra and Koehler (2006) discuss that one of the problems surrounding technology integration is the lack of support for teachers. “Part of the problem, we argue, has been a tendency to only look at the technology and not how it is used. Merely introducing technology to the educational process is not enough” (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).

As a district coding teacher, I spend one day a week visiting different classrooms to support teachers with the new Applied Design, Skills, and Technologies curriculum, specifically on how to implement coding. Many teachers are hesitant to teach coding because the concept is new to them, and they feel they lack the pedagogical knowledge. Facilitating unplugged activities that teach the fundamentals of computer science, such as algorithms, helps provide scaffolding to learners and teachers. This program set up by the district provides support for teachers, providing them a teacher with specialized knowledge and resources to teach coding, aligned with the new ADST curriculum. Activities and content include introduction to basic programming and algorithms. Students work through unplugged activities to begin building computational thinking skills. I also spend time with teachers after the workshop to demonstrate how I am using coding cross-curricular to demonstrate deep thinking about learning specific concepts or skills that transfer to science. In my classroom, as we worked through our understanding of algorithms, we related it to our life cycle unit in science. We looked at how we use algorithms in our daily lives. After we planted our seeds, students worked in pairs to write out an algorithm for planting a seed. Providing rich learning environments that are cross-curricular help students develop computational thinking. Providing students with these building blocks set them up for success when they begin coding in Scratch. Students are connecting how coding relates to math and language arts, and how they are developing their core competencies through their learning journey.


BC Ministry of Education, Introduction to British Columbia’s Redesigned Curriculum, 2015.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 -14.

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching. The foundations of a new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1)1-23.


  1. Thank you for sharing Danielle! Do you find these “unplugged” activities serve as an icebreaker for teachers into coding? Maybe they are a little less intimidating for teachers as they move into computational thinking?

    1. Hi Natalie. In my experience, I have noticed that “unplugged” activities relieve the anxiety for most teachers who are uncomfortable using technology. When they understand that coding is a language which involves computational and critical thinking, they begin to see how these activities help develop each students core competencies. Teachers can teach the concept of programming and algorithms without an iPad or laptop, which is often less intimidating.

  2. Hi Danielle,

    I enjoyed reading your post, and I’m very interested in your work with teaching coding and how you create student opportunities, through cross curricular approaches, to develop student skills in computational thinking. I’ve also utilized non-technology based activities to teach programming concepts to students before we launch into coding using Scratch. I’m curious to know what grade levels you typically work with, and what age are the youngest learners that you’ve introduced to programming?

    Thanks for your post,

    – Allen.

  3. Hi Allen.
    The coding team was formed to work with grade 6/7 teachers because coding becomes mandatory next year. It was a way to provide teachers with resources and in-class support.
    I teach grade 2/3. In class we started the year with “unplugged activities.” Then we moved to Lightbot Hour, which is a free app available on the iPads. From there, the students start to build basic computational skills (as the levels get increasingly harder). It’s a great way to introduce problem solving and critical thinking, and have students work with partners to work through difficulties that may arise. The next thing we introduced was Scratch Jr. After Scratch Jr. students are most often ready for Hopscotch (because of the built-in tutorials). After primary student’s understand the basics of coding, we then introduce Scratch Jr or Scratch projects as a way to demonstrate evidence of learning. For example: in our landforms unit, student’s programmed different scenes to share different landforms and how they were formed. In Scratch, students coded the water cycle to demonstrate what they learned. When teachers see how computational thinking can be combined with other subjects, they are more inclined to adopt into their practise. The student’s love the option of having a choice in how they can share what they learned, while developing and demonstrating their critical and creative thinking skills.

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