October 28 is Lighthouse Labs' Five-Year Birthday! To honour this exciting milestone, we're taking a look back at some of the past events and goals we've achieved, our favourite initiatives we've been a part of along the way, and what kind of impact they had after the fact.
Back in the fall of 2016, Lighthouse Labs started working in partnership with Kids Code Jeunesse and BC’s Ministry of Education to provide coding education to teachers across BC. This project has since grown into Code Create Teach - a national campaign to support, inspire, and encourage teachers to bring code into their classrooms. We're excited to catch up with one of the original teachers involved in the program: Ann Pimentel. Ann is a Resource Teacher who teaches students with special needs at James Kennedy Elementary school in Langley, B.C. Ann is approaching 20 years of teaching experience, with 15 of those specializing in children with behavioural and learning differences. Ann feels that when it comes to teaching kids with special needs, having opportunities to code and getting them involved with technology is a wonderful gateway to inclusion. We spoke with Ann about her past experiences with Lighthouse Labs and the original CanCode Project.
Did you have any previous experience with coding before? If so, what coding experience did you have?
Tell us a little bit about your experience with the CanCode and the Lighthouse Labs train-the-trainer workshop.
It was three years ago when the first train-the-trainer event took place. I was selected by my school district to attend the training session. It was great to go out to Chilliwack, B.C. and meet other teachers and to meet (Lighthouse Labs Head Vancouver Instructor) Don Burks. This experience allowed me to connect with a lot of people who were interested in technology, which was phenomenal! The second year I attended, it was great to follow-up and see where educators had gone with the training.
It’s still a relatively new concept to bring coding into the school system especially in elementary schools. Overall, it was a great experience and really helped me to share insights I had with other like-minded educators.
And what was your experience like afterwards? Did that opinion change after the workshop?
I must admit, I found the first workshop a bit overwhelming for me - that’s because I felt like I was way out of my depth! It was a very high learning curve for me and there is a mix of elementary to high school teachers, all with very different levels of computational thinking knowledge and experience. It was good to realize that we are all on our own learning curve and it helped to collaborate with others and learn as much as possible.
Do you believe all kids should have the opportunity to learn to code? If so why?
Yes, some kids might not have great strengths in math or reading, yet give them a robot they can code and they will blow you away with their innovative skills.
What is your advice for any teachers looking to bring coding into their classroom? What do you think are some of the best ways to inspire teachers to explore coding?
Kids are the biggest advocates for learning any new topics. They are so excited about coding that they end up bringing it into the classroom themselves. When it becomes part of the culture of a school, it will stay a part of that culture (no matter who is teaching there) because it has been infused into the school itself. It is wonderful when you see the whole school community from teachers to parents to students delving into coding and enjoying the exploration together.
Tell us about some of the projects or lessons where you've implemented coding into your classroom.
Kids as young as in kindergarten are getting excited about coding and will tell their teachers with great joy, “Can we do coding?” Because The Inspire Project has been granted many funding supports, it's been wonderful to lend out robots and coding resources to the classrooms, run a Coding and Innovation Club, and do Inspire Showcases after school. Our Library Learning Commons offers great opportunities to our community with the Books & Bots program. This program together with The Inspire Project lends out robots and books to students. Once you see the kids are into it, they don’t even realize that they are delving into deeper learning. Then, all of sudden, they are joyfully diving into playful learning through critical thinking and problem-solving.
What would you say to students who want to become developers?
I would encourage them to pursue it! In my early days, I had a student in Grade 7 who was learning about Raspberry Pi and coding who said “I want to do this for the rest of my life” and he wanted to be a video game programmer when he grew up. He was so passionate about coding, he spoke of his new passion in front of many during the Langley School District Speech Festival. These coding opportunities are changing kids' lives.
Anything else you want to add about training with Kids Code Jeunesse or Lighthouse Labs?
I would like to add that I think we need to find a balance between screen time and play time. It’s important for students to be familiar with technology, but also have time away from screens, whether it’s computer, tablet, phones, or TV. That’s why I like moving more towards tools and robots that are more hands-on coding like Bee-Bots, Robot Mouse and Ozobots. The future is exciting and inspiring!