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Coding and Math: The Language of the Future.

posted Nov 18, 2017, 12:19 PM by Shayla   [ updated Dec 2, 2017, 2:06 PM ]
As a technology-based tutoring company, Logical Learning is always trying to be on the forefront of technological advances and how we can use them in conjunction with mathematics to help our students succeed. While coding is certainly not a new topic, recent advances have made it more accessible than ever.

But what does coding have to do with mathematics? As Josh Kwon (2016) states, "I realized that coding requires many of the same skills that we use in math, such as critical thinking and problem solving." I couldn't agree more. Figuring out how to make a program do what you want it to is right along the same lines as manipulating an equation to get the desired result. Teaching coding early to children can help develop these skills naturally which will then translate into improved performance in mathematics. Also, coding can be great fun! Making math an enjoyable activity is a great way to increase participation, motivation and retention. (For more on gamification and mathematics click here.)

However, the sparked interest in coding has led to the creation of what I would call "psedocode". I am referring to the drag-and-drop type of coding that many students use today. This is the method of Khan Academy's coding activities as well as the website Scratch. I would recommend both as ways to introduce students to the concepts of coding. In addition, code.org has some great activities and tutorials. Connecting the concept of gaming and coding can also be experienced through the Minecraft Educational Edition. Below is a video from code.org, it is a coding lesson that doesn't use computers! It is a great activity to connect the overlapping skills of coding and mathematics in a fun way. In addition, they offer projects for all skill levels and ages so take some time to explore!


The problem with all of the above resources is that at its basic level, the code has essentially already be created for you. When completing activities students are doing little more than arranging desired outcomes. True coding is a language that must be studied and understood to combat syntax errors and so forth. Also, the above programs limit the ability to create as students are provided with a finite number of options.

Hence, drag and drop coding is a great starting point. As stated, I believe that all elementary-aged students should be exposed to at least one of the above resources. Mathematically, it will allow them to problem solve which is a crucial skill. However, the mathematical implementations of coding far surpasses this method. I currently teach a college level course that is focused on computational methods. The real-world applications of these skills are endless. Part of the course is coding in VBA (an extension of Excel). Here, using actual coding language, we teach students to create complex programs to help in vast calculations. They are able to take this knowledge and apply it to many situations, such as actuary science, interpolating or extrapolating data and more. I am constantly explaining to students that in order to be able to code a program to calculate for us, we must first understand how to calculate by hand. Now expand this to all subjects of mathematics. If a student can code a program to solve an equation, by correlation, they must have the understanding to solve it themselves.

Below are two screenshots, one from the drag and drop coding program scratch, and the other from VBA. While the programs themselves have very different outcomes, you can easily see the difference in the interface which represents the process involved in learning these two types of coding. We can see how scratch provides a much more kid-friendly platform making it great for beginners, while VBA is a more powerful and professional platform that can be integrated into an advanced curriculum.


Learning coding languages can allow students to create any type of program to complete any number of tasks. This is why drag and drop coding should be expanded. Coding is much like learning a foreign language, but this language is universal and with technology playing such a prevalent role in our lives it is a skill that all can find useful in the years to come. As discussed in my gamification post, motivating students is one of the most difficult hurdles mathematics teachers face. Kwon (2016) states, "coding may also help students improve their attitude towards problem solving. Just like completing any challenging math problem or finishing a difficult puzzle, the final product [should leave] a satisfying impression. I felt proud of my accomplishments and hungered for a much more challenging project. In fact, this is what “learning” should feel like."

We can also easily connect coding to mathematics even at the drag and drop level. While coding itself implores similar brain exercises as mathematics, utilizing coding to create math games and projects can work twofold. It allows the student creative expression, it represents the deepest level of understanding via Bloom's revised taxonomy, and it increases student attention and understanding. Students can use the mentioned resources to create mathematics games building on both their problem solving skills as well as maturing their comprehension of the given topic.

Kwon (2016) presents three projects that cover the entire year as a examples of ways to integrate coding into the mathematics classroom, " First, my students will create artwork using the Code.org platform. Second, I want students to draw connections to math concepts learned in their Algebra classes with their projects in coding. Lastly (if time allows), I want kids to create their own game using the ScratchED platform, present their final product, and share it with their peers." These are some great ideas for educators to bridge the world of computers with mathematics.

Finally, while Logical Learning can provide tutoring in coding, most are interested in a direct teaching method that increases skill level of a particular topic. However, as the resources provided are free and fun, I encourage both parents and educators to introduce their students to coding. Children will feel like it is a part of normal screen time as they enjoy themselves while they are also learning key skills. If you or your child or student is interested in learning more about coding, contact us!  We are happy to provide courses in these skills as they may be missing from their traditional school environment. Giving a student with the ability to code is setting them up for a successful future in the world of technology, it allows them to increase basic skills key to mathematics, and provides them a platform to create anything they can imagine!

Do you have thoughts on drag and drop coding? How do you see coding and mathematics working together? Leave a comment! We would love to hear your thoughts.

References:
Kwon, J. (2016, February 25). Here's why I am going to teach my math students to code. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2016/02/25/coding-math-gbt/