EOE June Author of the Month!

Congrats Marina Umaschi Bers!


1. What motivated you to write Coding as a Playground?
Coding has made a come to education and many teachers and parents, as well as policy makers, are thinking about how to integrate coding into the school curriculum and the range of activities children can do at home with technologies. The motivation behind writing this book was to help them choose developmentally appropriate ways of engaging children with coding…and nothing better than the guiding metaphor of the playground! Coding is a playground. It offers many opportunities for learning and personal growth, exploration and creativity, mastery of new skills, and ways of thinking. But we do not always take children to the playground. There are other places to visit and other skills to develop. But when we do go to the playground, we want it to be a developmentally appropriate space. So it is with coding.

2. From the book, what is your favorite strategy/piece of advice?
The notion of thinking of coding as a literacy for the XXIs century. As a literacy, coding can become tool for thinking about new things in new ways. Coding helps us to think in analytical, logical ways and to problem solve. But it also helps us to express new ideas. Like a literacy. We are learning and manipulating a symbol system to communicate and express ideas. Learning how to code means learning how to use the symbol system of a particular programming language to create our won project to share with others. Furthermore, once we can do that, we are in control of creating content, we can have a voice in our society .
At the conclusion of the book I tell the story of a mother approaching me after I gave a conference for hundreds of early childhood teachers in the Boston area. As I am making my way out of the room, a shy woman approaches me. She wants to know if she should allow her 6-year-old to use ScratchJr on her own and how often. I smile at her. I have heard this question many times. I ask her, “Will you allow her to read a book? How often? Will you allow her to write a story? How many of them? Always?” She replies: “It depends. It depends what book and it depends when she wants to write. I will not let her write a story while we are having a family dinner, and I certainly do not let her read some grown-up books I have at home. They can be scary for her.” In order to answer my question, this woman carefully considered the context. Similar logic applies to the use of technology: it depends.

3. Tell us one of your favorite stories about a student you’ve worked with.

I love to observe children getting to the “haha” moment. It is a process. It doesn’t happen fast or automatically. Learning to code, as a literacy, takes time. One of my favorite times is when little kids are trying to program their KIBO robots (which the book talks about) to make a dancing robot. At the beginning the robots just move one way or the other, inconsistently and without responding to the bit of the music, but as children spend time focused on their projects, talk to each other and exchange ideas with each other, these robots “become alive” and they slowly become dancers. The robots go from crashing into each other, to performing and coordinated dance, and the most rewarding experience for us, is to observe the children’s sense of pride on what they did and the problems they solved.

4. What or who inspired you to become an educator?

What inspired me is the future and the most important resource we have: our children. The earlier we can start educating young children so they do not become consumers of technologies, but producers, the better. It is our responsibility to give them tools to think with and about technologies, so they do not become “slaves” but “masters” of these tools.

About the Author

Marina Umaschi Bers is a professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development and an adjunct professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University. She heads the Developmental Technologies Research group where she studies innovative ways to promote positive childhood development through new learning technologies. Marina co-developed the ScratchJr programming language in collaboration with Mitch Resnick from the MIT Media Lab and Paula Bonta from the PICO company. She is also the creator of KIBO, a robotics platform for children 4 to 7 that can be programmed with wooden blocks (no screen needed), which allows young builders to learn programming and engineering while integrating arts and crafts.

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