Cracking that code!

Usha Raman

nos From the wink to the wave, from the “thumbs up” to the slightest shake of the head, from the red check mark on a student’s book to the green light that says go, from the zeroes and ones of computer language to the paired enzymes that make up our DNA…we are surrounded by codes that we consciously and unconsciously create, decode, and read. They are an essential part of the way we make meaning and derive understanding. We encounter codes in practically every subject, from language to math to science and art.

What can a project on codes allow us to learn?
A project on codes could offer a variety of interesting ideas to get children to think in ways that open up understanding across disciplinary boundaries.

Systematic thinking: By looking below the surface of everyday practices (speaking to each other, description, dressing, driving, playing, etc.) children can learn how conventions are built through codes of various kinds. To do this, they will learn to take apart these processes, step by step, to look at the symbols and forms of representation that each process uses.

Analytical thinking: Once children begin to uncover the codes that structure meaning in a particular system (letters and words in a language, symbols in math, chemical formulae) they will begin to ask the questions why (why are these codes used?) and how (how did they evolve? How do they work?). Depending on the level of the class, more and more complex analyses can be encouraged.

Creative thinking: How can new codes be invented to help us in challenging contexts? How does an understanding of coding allow us to communicate across cultures (for instance), or to undertake new kinds of exploration?

This project could be made truly collaborative and interdisciplinary if all the teachers in a particular class level get together to think about how they could interpret the topic in their classes. The learning in each subject could then be brought together at the end of the week (or the designated project duration) and shared on a common platform so that the children can see the connections and differences across the subjects. Coding is a large and complex topic, and can be tackled in many different ways. There’s a lot of information available on the Internet, on each of the aspects of coding discussed in this article. The ideas given here can be adapted for any class level between 6 and 8 or higher. Some of them may also work in the upper primary classroom. Like most topics, this too can be made complex or simple depending on the interest level of your students and the resources available to you.

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