"Consider how we learn a new language; we learn the vocabulary, the constructs, the grammar. We learn to read, and we learn to write. We don’t consider ourselves fluent until we can express our passions, emotions, until we can debate ideas. Until we can share our nature, through our perspective in that language."
Lise-Anne Monkhouse, Mathematics and Computer Science teacher at La Côte International School Aubonne, talks about the importance of helping our students develop true digital fluency so that they can become what their generational stereotype considers them to be by default: Digital Natives.
We all know we are living in a digital age, and that our children engage more than we do, certainly more than we did as kids, with digital technologies. A current popular description of this generation is that they are digital natives. However, this implies that they have some level of digital fluency and, given the number of hours per day that they interact with digital technologies, we can be lulled into thinking this is true. One of the reasons I am passionate about bringing Computer Science to our Secondary students at LCIS is because I do not believe our students are digitally fluent. And I believe that we are doing a disservice to our children if we do not take the leadership to provide them an education that allows, given the age we live in, for digital fluency. One of the reasons I wanted to work at LCIS was its partnership with MIT and the commitment of its leadership to bring Computer Science to Secondary: from our Year 9 Code Academy to the IGCSE to the IB Diploma Program. So, what is digital fluency and why do I think it is important?
Consider how we learn a new language; we learn the vocabulary, the constructs, the grammar etc. we learn to read, and we learn to write. We don’t consider ourselves fluent until we can express our passions, emotions, until we can debate ideas. Until we can share our nature, through our perspective in that language.
Now consider how our children interact with digital technologies. Let your mind just wander through a snapshot of the day and the ways you have observed them with their devices. What comes to mind? For most of us, it is our children browsing, chatting on Discord, playing on Minecraft or another game, watching videos, writing up reports for school etc. Our children have a lot of hours of experience interacting with new technologies, but very little time is spent creating with new technologies: they can read but they can’t write.
I built my first computer when I was 12 years old, started coding soon afterwards and was on the internet playing games and building games in the late 80’s. A tour of my classroom would show that I am still taking apart devices and trying to figure out how they work. This is what our students want to be able to do, they want to be able to build a website, code a Minecraft mod or a Discord bot. They want to create their own games and share them with their friends, they want to build their own keyboards and express themselves through the choice of key color, key size, and mechanics, and build their own computers. Through these creations they develop digital fluency.
Since coming to LCIS last year, we have had from Year 9 to Year 11 students coding in Python. Thanks to our new staff member, Ms Vanisha Gorasia, and the school's commitment, we now have programmers in Years 9, 11 and 12, and by early February 2022, Year 10 students will also be programming. Our students have created wellbeing websites, websites that teach you how to build your own keyboard, they have programmed games and bots and taken apart laptops, keyboards and so on. They are learning about security and ethics in the digital field, about hacking and phishing, and they are pursuing all of this to finally be able to build their own Minecraft mod. And along the way they are developing all those other important skills that computer science fosters: computational thinking, algorithmic and mathematical skills, logic and the life skills of resilience, and reflection. In coding you learn to see your own errors, not let them be a self-judgment and reflect on how to correct them.
Limit the interactive screen time, the reading time and encourage the creative time. Take something apart, there are lots of old computers at the dechetterie. The younger students can program with Scratch on their Ipads, encourage the older ones to program in any language they like, learn to code along with them.