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Coding and Kids: Should Your Child Be Learning to Program?

In 2019 coding became compulsory in NSW primary schools and for students in years 7 and 8. While there is widespread support for this move, some educators believe too much focus is being placed on coding.

Coding camps and classes have sprung up everywhere to meet the growing demand for these skills, but with differing views on the subject, it can be hard for parents to gauge why students need coding and if they are learning enough at school.

Here we look at the arguments for and against coding for kids:

Benefits of Teaching Kids to Code

This is the central reason given for teaching coding in schools. It is claimed that AI will make many current jobs redundant and the winners in the future job market will be those with coding skills.

By learning to write their own programs, children discover how applications and websites are designed, providing them with a deeper understanding of the modern world. When they gain the ability to build websites and create apps and games, they become creators rather than passive consumers.

Programming requires reasoning, logic and problem-solving. Kids must learn to think abstractly and visualise concepts, helping them perform better in all subjects. They also need to be creative and willing to experiment. Coding requires collaboration and helps students understand how new inventions build on previous knowledge.

Arguments Against Coding for Kids

Critics claim most workers will not need coding skills in the future. According to this view, interfaces are becoming so easy to use that anyone with basic digital literacy will be able to create and design games and apps. Just as there is no need to understand how an engine works to drive a car, critics argue it will not be necessary to know how computer systems function to work with them in the future.

When the telegraph was invented, there was a push from some quarters to teach everyone Morse code. Critics view mass coding education as equally short-sighted. Just as the programming language Basic has now almost disappeared they believe Python will soon become obsolete and computers will evolve beyond using the binary code of ones and zeros.

Paul Bennett, an educational consultant in Nova Scotia is opposed to coding in schools because of the time it takes from other subjects. He claims “most regular math teachers fear that coding will further erode classroom time for math and do little or nothing to prepare students for true computer programming, AP-level computer science, or a STEM career.” In Australia, this is compounded by a lack of skilled teachers.

Why Coding Matters

While the arguments against coding are interesting, it’s clear the benefits for students far outweigh the potential negatives. Even if the specific programming languages learnt at school become redundant, the skills gained are invaluable for academic and career success.

One important point to emerge from the debate is that coding should not be taught at the expense of foundational STEM subjects. Students need a well-rounded education to prepare them for the future.

How to Design a Study Schedule that Works for You

Are you a procrastinator who puts off homework for as long as possible then rushes to get things finished? Do you find yourself cramming for exams at the last minute, causing you to feel anxious and overwhelmed when you should be calm and focused?

The best way to overcome these problems is to design a study schedule that suits your needs, helping you feel confident and in control of your work.

These questions encourage self-awareness, helping you create a schedule that you can stick to:

What are your goals?

Be clear about what goals you want to achieve when designing your study plan. You need to ensure you’ve allocated enough time for homework, assignments and revision, giving priority to tasks that are most urgent. You should revise your plan regularly and allow for flexibility.

It’s important to be realistic and factor in other commitments. If you’re overly ambitious and allocate too many hours to study, you may become demoralised when you can’t keep up.

What is your learning style?

Everyone has a preferred learning style. The three basic styles are visual, auditory and kinesthetic. You can take an online quiz to find out which category you fall into.

Auditory learners absorb information best when they hear things explained and benefit from listening to recorded lectures and participating in study groups. As these learners are highly sensitive to noise, it’s a good idea to study in a quiet place free from distractions.

Kinesthetic learners are physical and find it difficult to sit still for extended periods, so if this is your style, include frequent breaks in your schedule and use the time to move around. Visual learners prefer information presented in visual form so part of your study session should involve creating graphs and diagrams.

What are the obstacles?

Designing your schedule to suit your learning style will make studying more enjoyable, helping you persevere, but you also need to be aware of obstacles that can derail your study session.

If you find it hard to ignore messages on your phone, turn it off or set it to busy so you can’t be contacted. Make sure your family knows you’re not to be disturbed. Eat before you begin studying and have snacks and a drink on your desk so you don’t have to make a trip to the kitchen.

What do you need?

Your study zone should be a comfortable and welcoming place where you feel motivated to learn. If it’s messy and disogranised, clean it up before you put your schedule in place. Make sure everything you need is close by.

It also helps to have someone to hold you to account. This can be a parent, learning partner, study group or tutor.

What else can you do?

You’re much more likely to stick to a schedule when you’re healthy and relaxed, so make sure you’re eating properly and getting enough sleep. Try meditation and mindfulness if you’re feeling stressed, and don’t forget to leave enough time for fun.

The secret to a successful study schedule is a well-balanced life.

 

Fun Holiday Activities that Develop STEM Skills

Keeping kids entertained in the winter school holidays can be a challenge as they tend to get restless and bored when cooped up inside all day.

To beat the boredom and keep learning going, try these fun activities which will develop foundational STEM skills and ensure your child returns to school feeling motivated and inspired.

Build Something 

Working with the hands to build something is excellent for developing hand-eye coordination, and it helps children get a better understanding of weight, shape and size.

A set of blocks can provide hours of entertainment for small kids. Lego is ideal for kids of all ages as they can build simple toys right through to sophisticated robots that can be programed to display different behaviours. The Stem Laboratory website has many fun activities with Lego to boost skills.

Make Something 

Challenge your child to make something from scratch out of everyday household items such as paper cups, string, cotton balls and popsicle sticks. This is a chance to let their imagination run free, but it also involves planning and design, which are essential STEM skills.

Kids love making things like slime and bath bombs. These activities teach them about measuring and mixing ingredients, and physical processes. The simple activity of baking a cake together provides an opportunity to explain why the cake rises, which will encourage your child to see everyday activities from a scientific perspective.

Get Moving 

Good physical health is vital for learning, particularly for STEM subjects which require strong attention to detail. Anything that gets your child moving is beneficial, and in winter, indoor sports like table tennis, ten pin bowling and ice skating are perfect. Play centres provide an outlet for younger children to burn off energy, while older kids love trampoline parks and indoor rock climbing centres.

If you have enough space at home, encourage kids to play games like balloon football, musical chairs and charades. Marbles and jacks can also be a lot of fun, while helping kids with concentration and coordination.

Watch Some Docos 

When watching movies with kids, it’s tempting to choose the latest blockbuster that you know they’ll enjoy, but the winter holidays are a perfect time to introduce your child to some quality documentaries. Encouraging them to watch good documentaries is one of the best ways to nurture intellectual curiosity.

Some great non-fiction films for kids are Disneynature: Wings of Life, In the Shadow of the Moon and Arctic Tale.

Read Science Fiction  

Science fiction explores how technology develops and transforms lives. Kids who read stories in this genre will learn to think more deeply about how technology has shaped their world and consider the implications of future inventions.

According to Chana Porter, co-founder of the Octavia Project in America which uses sci-fi to develop STEM skills, “Sci-fi helps teens imagine greater possibilities for their lives and communities.”

There are many quality short stories available in this genre, making it easy to read together. This gives you an opportunity to discuss themes and ideas, and kids will appreciate the quality time with you.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas to Keep Kids Alert in Class

Any teacher will tell you how difficult it can be to keep students focused after lunch. Some schools in Australia have tackled the ‘afternoon slump’ by scheduling lunch earlier or allowing students to snack throughout the day.

These solutions can help improve learning, but they’re not available at all schools. The best way to help your child stay focused in the afternoon is by choosing the right foods for their lunchbox.

Healthy Lunch Options

School lunches should be filling but not too heavy as this will make kids sleepy. Carbohydrates such as pasta and rice should only be eaten in small quantities at lunchtime as they cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate.

The best lunch options for kids are whole grain rolls or bread with a protein filling such as lean turkey breast, chicken, tuna or cottage cheese. Chickpeas and fava beans provide energy without blood sugar spikes. Fresh fruits and crunchy vegetables, boiled eggs and nuts are also nutritious and easy to snack on.

Yoghurt is a good choice for school lunchboxes and there is evidence that whole milk is better than low-fat options as it helps children stay fuller for longer. The less added ingredients in yoghurt the better.

Getting enough water during the school day is very important as dehydration often mimics hunger, causing kids to overeat. When students are hydrated, they are more alert and focused in class. It’s important to provide a water bottle in your child’s lunchbox and make sure they can refill it easily at school.

Eat More Frequently 

Nutritionists believe that everyone should eat five small meals a day rather than three large ones to assist with digestion and concentration. ‘Grazing’ distributes energy and prevents blood sugar spikes.

This is difficult at school when students have limited time for morning and afternoon breaks, but you can encourage your child to spread their eating out by having half a sandwich or roll for morning tea and the other half for lunch.

Providing other light snacks such as carrot and celery sticks, berries, bananas and nuts allows them to eat until they are full, without feeling heavy. Jazz these up with a tub of hummus for the vegetables or yoghurt with the fruit and nuts.

Kids who have a variety of healthy foods to snack on through the day are less likely to come home starving, reducing after-school binging.

Tips

 

3 Strategies for Students Who Are Struggling in Maths

Young learners often struggle with maths and may develop a dislike of it. If children fail to grasp the basic mathematical concepts in primary school, they will find it hard to catch up, causing many to avoid advanced subjects in high school. This is concerning as the future job market will require workers with strong STEM skills.

These three methods can help students of all ages and levels develop confidence in maths:

Ask for Real-Life Examples

One of the central reasons students struggle to understand maths is because they don’t see how this knowledge can be applied in the real world.

When educators explain the history and purpose behind maths concepts, they give students something concrete and meaningful to grasp. For example, the idea of negative numbers was not widely accepted in the West until the mid-nineteenth century when a more sophisticated method was needed to express debt. Today negative numbers are central to banking, the stock market, temperature, astronomy and many other areas.

According to Kalid Azad, creator of the website Better Explained, when learning new concepts students need to ask:

Engage in Active Learning

Textbooks encourage passive learning, which is why many people believe maths is all about memorising formulas and ‘plug and chug.’

The truth is that to become skilled in this subject, students must be challenged to actively make connections and build on the concepts they’ve already studied. This involves strong critical thinking skills.

A good teacher or tutor can encourage this by drawing attention to previous learning and ensuring students see the connections. Solving problems with a buddy is another great way for students to draw on previous knowledge. There are also some great interactive maths sites which are designed for active learning.

The more connections students make between concepts, the faster they will learn new ones.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learning mathematical concepts is the same as learning to play a musical instrument or speak another language. It requires continuous practice. Even after they have mastered a concept, students need to revise it regularly.

Ideally students should receive enough homework to cement their understanding of what is studied in class, but some may require more practice. Students can ask for extra work or they may benefit from studying with a tutor. One easy way parents can help is by asking students to explain concepts and steps in a sequence to them, as this has been found to foster deep learning.

These three strategies can help students learn to master and enjoy this rewarding subject.

 

Tips to Get the Most Out Of Parent-Teacher Night

Parent-teacher nights can be almost as daunting for parents as they are for kids! Parents are often uncertain about what questions to ask and how to make the most of the brief time allotted to them.

It’s important to use this time to get feedback, discuss areas for improvement and find out if your child needs extra support. This information will help you make the right choices for your child’s future and ensure they are receiving a quality education.

If you student seems to be doing well, it might be tempting to skip parent-teacher night, but this is not a good idea. Attending shows interest and support, and it allows you to establish a rapport with teachers which will help if problems do crop up later.

Be Prepared

According to the Director of the Gonski Institute for Education Adrian Piccoli, parents can ensure the night is a success by planning ahead and taking notes during meetings.

This gives parents something to refer to and will help you remember what was discussed, which can be an issue when meeting with multiple high school teachers, especially if you have more than one child.

In his book 12 Ways Your Child Can Get The Best Out Of School, Piccoli lists some questions for parents to ask at parent-teacher interviews:

These questions will help you gauge how well your child is performing and if they are keeping up in class. They can also give insights into your child’s social skills and adjustment.

If a teacher’s answers to your questions seems vague or unclear, don’t be afraid to ask for more specific information and examples. This is an opportunity to assess how closely the teacher is following your student’s progress and the quality of education provided at the school.

If your child needs help, now is the time to find out what additional support the school offers.

Teachers’ Advice

Teachers have advice of their own when it comes to parent-teacher night. Many believe it’s good for students to be present during meetings when possible. They welcome the opportunity to find out how their students home lives may be impacting on their behaviour and results.

Teachers also like to get an idea of how interested parents are, so be prepared for your child’s teacher to turn the tables on you by inquiring if you know what your student is learning about in class.

When discussing results, teachers would like parents to focus on their child’s overall journey, not just their performance in standardised tests.

Follow these tips to make the most of parent-teacher night.

Benefits for Students of Learning a Foreign Language

Students often don’t see the relevance of learning a foreign language, or they overlook this option when choosing subjects because they think it will be too difficult. While learning a language can be challenging it is also immensely rewarding with many advantages.

One obvious benefit is in the area of career as there is a big demand for people with bilingual qualifications in the government, private and non-profit sectors.

Studying another language can also help students stand out when applying for university courses through alternative pathways to ATAR as this demonstrates academic rigor, commitment and curiosity.

Here are some less obvious but important benefits of studying another language:

Cognitive Development

Multiple studies have found that learning another language enhances problem solving skills, memory and concentration. Students who study a foreign language are better at multitasking, score higher on standardised tests and have denser grey matter in the part of the brain involved in executive function.

The skills gained through studying languages are used in all subjects and can improve overall academic performance. The reason languages are so effective at boosting brain power is because of the mental agility needed to translate, make connections and memorise rules and structures.

This is the equivalent of doing a mental workout, and it explains why learning a language can help ward of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. Babies also benefit from being exposed to different languages, and experts claim that the earlier this happens the better for mental development.

Improved Literacy

Students who study the structure and rules of another language gain a much better understanding of how their own language works. Rather than being immersed in it, they are able to step outside and view their native language in a different way. This has been found to improve literacy skills, with students performing better in reading, comprehension and grammar tests.

Superior Verbal Skills

Unlike most other subjects, language study requires continuous verbal practice and assessments. The experience of speaking frequently equips students with the confidence to communicate clearly and fluently in their native language.

Preparation for Higher Education    

It’s not surprising that those who study a foreign language perform better in higher education. Their improved problem solving and literacy skills, combined with the discipline and effort required to master another language, lay the foundations for academic success in later years.

Once students have learned one language, it becomes easier to learn another one, opening up a world of opportunities.

Personal Growth

Studying a foreign language gives students insights into other cultures which can expand their worldview and foster empathy. Those who can speak another language are more likely to travel and work overseas. Having the ability to communicate directly with people in another country is a powerful and authentic experience.

The benefits of studying another language are quite simply amazing!

How to Choose the Right Subjects for the HSC

Deciding which subjects to study for the HSC can be challenging. Not only do HSC results determine your ATAR for university admission, but many university courses have prerequisite subjects.

If you don’t plan to go to university, you still need to choose subjects which will give you a foundation for further study and enhance your job prospects.

To help you decide which subjects to study for the HSC, ask yourself these three questions:

What do you enjoy?

Learning should be interesting and enriching, not boring and difficult. You will also perform better in subjects you enjoy. Students often make the mistake of selecting advanced subjects because they believe they will get better marks due to scaling. If you perform poorly in a high scaling subject the result will still reflect this.

Other common mistakes students make include choosing subjects because they are considered easy, because friends are doing the course or because they like the teacher.

The knowledge you gain through a subject will stay with you long after your memory of who you sat next to in class or who taught it has faded. The purpose of education is to help you grow, so it’s important to choose subjects that inspire you.

What Are You Good At?

There is usually an overlap between the subjects you enjoy and those you are good at. If you’re not sure about your strengths and weaknesses, ask your teachers for advice.

Most schools run subject information sessions where you can ask questions about the requirements and assessments to help you work out which subjects are most suitable for you.

What Career Would You Like to Pursue?

Career choice should stem from your interests and abilities. It’s a great idea to see a careers counsellor before deciding which subjects to study. You can also attend university information sessions and make use of the services for prospective students to find out more.

At this stage in life, nothing is set in stone and if you change your mind about what you want to do halfway through the HSC, don’t panic, there are plenty of other pathways to the course or career you want.

Things to consider

These guidelines will help you choose the right HSC subjects for you.

Benefits of Joining a Study Groups for Teens

Studying alone in a quiet place helps students concentrate and absorb knowledge, but it’s not the only method that works. Study groups are also a great way for teens to learn, revise and develop important interpersonal skills.

Extroverts and auditory learners are particularly suited to study groups because they enjoy discussing concepts and sharing information, but introverts also have a lot to gain. Reserved students may feel more comfortable speaking up and exchanging ideas in a small group setting.

So, what are the benefits of studying in group?

Increased Motivation

Sticking to a study schedule can be hard for teens when there are so many other distractions. When they commit to regular study group sessions, students must come prepared each week, helping combat procrastination. Working together is also more enjoyable for young people, giving them added incentive to revise and stay up to date with assignments.

Students Teach Each Other

Research has confirmed that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to another person. In study groups teens can take turns explaining concepts to each other to ensure all group members understand. Everyone in the group will bring different skills and strengths and by sharing these, all members benefit. Hearing and seeing concepts explained in different ways helps solidify learning.

Ownership of Learning

Students gain the most from education when they have a sense of ownership over learning. This means they understand why they are studying subjects and they feel empowered to find out more. When teens run their own study group, they take control of their education in a way which builds confidence and inspires a thirst for knowledge.

Collaboration

Most jobs require students to be skilled at working with others. Group study is a perfect way to nurture these skills. By working with their peers, teens learn to listen closely, ask questions and appreciate different points of view. Collaborating also saves time as students can solve problems together and share study techniques.

Reduced Anxiety

Group study helps teens understand that everyone feels nervous about exams and results. A good study group can provide a valuable support network for young people, helping them cope with anxiety and stress.

Tips for Organising a Study Group

7 Reasons Older Children Should Still Read Picture Books

“Those books are for babies.” That’s the reaction teacher’s often get when they introduce picture books in the classroom to older primary and high school students. There’s a widespread belief that once children start reading at a certain level, they should leave picture books behind forever.

Children absorb this belief from well-meaning parents who think that to succeed academically students need to graduate to chapter books as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this view is doing children a disservice as picture books have much to offer students of all ages.

Educators have long recognised that picture books are an excellent resource which is why they still use them right through primacy school and high school.

Here are 7 reasons older children should continue reading picture books:

1. Increased Engagement

While older students may scoff initially when picture books are introduced in the classroom, they quickly forget their misgivings once the stories and images start working their magic. These books are particularly good for disengaged students and they can help foster a love of reading in those who are struggling. Advanced students also have much to gain because the beauty of picture books is that they can be interpreted on multiple levels.

2. Improved Literacy

The language in picture books might be minimal but it is often evocative and colourful. Reading with images can boost literacy by helping students interpret new words in the context of the visual story. Students who shy away from chapter books, are more likely to read picture books and graphic novels on their own, leading to improved literacy.

3. Better Understand of Literary Concepts

Sophisticated literary concepts such as point of view, symbolism and intertextuality can be difficult for children to grasp. Picture books make teaching these concepts much easier because they use tangible images to make them concrete. Many picture books explicitly play with narrative conventions to teach children how stories work.

4. Enhanced Visual Literacy

In today’s highly visual culture, students need to understand how meaning is created through images. Picture books allow them to study techniques such as the use of colour, the placement of objects in the foreground and background and the impact of different angles.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

When children are aware of how images create meaning and affect emotions, they can think more critically about advertisements and other visual mediums designed to influence them.

6. Increased Emotional Intelligence

Far from catering only to small children, picture books tackle weighty subjects such as bullying, divorce and bereavement. They stimulate discussion and encourage children to think about other people’s perspectives.

7. Shared Enjoyment

Picture books are perfect for enjoying together, which is why they work well in the classroom. At home even older kids can benefit from reading with parents or siblings. Reading picture books together provides an opportunity to discuss the images and themes, which is very beneficial.

Picture books are fun and educational for all students.

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