STEM + Device. What's the real goal?
With this influx of coding opportunities for educators, parents and children alike, there's almost always a 'thing' attached [a ‘thing’ in this case is defined as an attachment by which the application that controls it makes the money]. If your product doesn't have (and I need to try to differentiate this from Nursery ages and up) an iPad 'thing' to connect, a wooden 'thing' to control, a blue plastic 'thing' to program, a stand alone robot 'thing' to learn from an app (though not strictly coding), Raspberry Pi 'thing', another Pi 'thing' or the many, many, many Arduino 'things' that range from the brilliantly simple to the absurd then children will simply not be able to learn to code in the way POTUS once directed. Then there's the premier league trio: WeDO, LEGO and Tetrix. All Hail!
Something’s not quite right. If your students are learning about instructions then all is good as too, if your students are below seven years old. But what about further along the track? If you are learning to program, do you need an attached 'thing'? LittleBits for example, lets you work only on the 'thing' because it is the thing.
What I really do like about these ‘things’ is the engagement they offer. What I don't like about them is that there is usually little to no support for the average layman teacher, the expectation that you 'just gotta tinker and you'll understand’ and, in some of the cases, where to give a class worth of kids the experience of 'hive' learning, they are exorbitantly expensive for what they really are. And, if you want to be trained or a club for your students, then you'd better be prepared to fork out a lot of cash for, in my experience, very little in return.
This is an age old situation though: have idea, prototype, build, take to market and sell to an education department of unsuspecting heads of school for an unnecessarily high uptick (TTS Bee Bots for $70+ we're looking at you). The other side to this is that the coding aspect to them is now 'appified'. Appified is a disgusting term however needs must.
Apps for this, Apps for that
There's an app for everything. I understand that control is necessary for these types of devices. However, the snag is there is another fork to this dilemma of learning alongside these devices. The fact that many now come with a game. It's almost as if, collectively, we assume any child can't learn nowadays without instant gratification within a linear trajectory. There are a number that fall into this kind of trap. It's also happening where learning programming structures natively is becoming a game too unless it's a Scratch-like platform and even these are being morphed.
The apps usually work a little like this: offer an example of a few steps, child copy steps (no or few deviations) and then, if it's correct then a bell goes off or an animation lets you know you're a winner or loser. This is also happening on Hour of Code. It's nice to dip your toe but the learning beyond this is thin. It enthuses our students however, wouldn’t it be great to have a Khan’s Academy type approach minus the app and let my students work in the browser.
The Walled Garden