Learning to Code

At Dawson, we believe wholeheartedly in providing an education where the student is the driver of the learning, and the teacher acts as a facilitator and mentor. Giving our students true ownership over their educational journey is one of the primary differentiators of a Dawson education. This philosophy is threaded through every subject, though it is often visibly evident in our middle school technology courses.
Yes, we work continuously to ensure Dawson’s tech courses use all the latest technologies, but more importantly, our innovative curriculum focuses as much -- if not more -- on student interest and engagement. What makes this approach innovative? On any given day, our tech students might be building a wall-size historical timeline of gaming devices, filming a choose-your-own-adventure video, or learning how to write a script for any game they choose. In other words, the tools for learning in a technology class can look as much like scissors, paper, pens, and markers as a computer or iPad.

That said, in my experience teaching technology courses specifically, there are few tech skills which empower students with more freedom of choice and creative expression than coding. In fact, our students respond so well to learning the language of code that Dawson has incorporated coding as one of its essential pillars of technology. There’s no shortage of data available on the far-reaching benefits of learning to code, from refining problem-solving and creative abilities to gaining higher-level organization and communication skills. A few examples of the many ways our Dawson students learn how to code: In our interactive game design course, our older students practice coding principles, from feedback loops to Boolean logic, while creating their own unique games; and in our design thinking courses, we challenge our younger students to operate drones utilizing different coding languages, such as Blockly or Apple Swift, and attempt to fly them through an obstacle course. There is a lot of failure that happens in these classes, but it’s so rewarding to watch our students learn to embrace and find comfort in the processes of trial and error (if at first you don’t succeed…you know the rest).

Innovative approaches to learning how to code are not unique to just education, but can also be found in environments outside of the K-12 realm. For example, Code Central in Las Vegas utilizes the same principles in their technology and coding programs. I recently had the opportunity to tour the Code Central facility to discover more about what they do and to exchange knowledge and ideas. I spoke with their director, Brian Mendelson, about their approach to teaching kids how to code and I liked how he framed it:

Code Central is an after-school enrichment program that teaches kids to code based upon a philosophy very similar to Dawson’s own Core Beliefs. Like Dawson, we understand kids learn and grow in different ways, so we created an environment that provides not only hands-on learning, but also offers a curriculum that engages student interest, curiosity, and imagination. For example, some kids are interested in creating websites, apps, or video games, while others want to work with robotics. Our project-based curriculum teaches kids multiple concepts, and our experienced instructors work with the students to create fun and engaging projects. This changes based on the specific needs and interests of individual students. For example, one of our students started with coding basics and got bored. We escalated her to games and websites, which still did not pique her interest. Finally, we introduced her to Arduino, a robotics/engineering program, and it all clicked. She's been coding in our center every week for over two years now and also volunteers to teach other kids what she has learned, thereby inspiring them as well.     

Coding, particularly when combined with other Dawson-centric habits of mind - such as design thinking, computational reasoning, and abstract problem solving on an omnipresent scale - becomes a powerful tool that will literally allow students to shape the future landscape of technology if they so choose. Heady-sounding stuff, I know, but the truth is “the future” is already here. Time to code it.

By Hubert Ham
Director of Innovation & Information Services

Hubert recently moved to Las Vegas from Austin, Texas, with his family of four and three dogs.  He has experience as a science teacher in grades 6-12, as a curriculum coordinator and as an instructional technologist.  Hubert earned a master's degree in STEM education at the University of Texas, and he brings a mix of technology experience and teaching experience to lead Dawson's I.T. department and innovation initiatives.  


The Alexander Dawson School

The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.