Programming Languages Explained: Python vs. JavaScript / CSS / HTML

The differences, similarities, and why any form of tech education is important.

You’ve likely seen Python mentioned among other traditional programming languages, including JavaScript (JS) and CSS/HTML. In fact, JavaScript, HTML/CSS, and Python all fall in the top three languages that developers use in their careers, according to the annual Stack Overflow survey (2021). 

With Python’s increasing exposure, it’s important to understand how it relates to the other programming languages available, how it’s different, and provide perspective on where it fits in the classroom with your students. Let’s get started by first providing a quick overview of exactly what Python, HTML/CSS, and JavaScript are so you have a basic understanding.

Programing Languages

What is Python?

First released in 1991, Python is a general-purpose programming language that can be used in a range of applications, including data science, software development, and automation. According to Python.org, Python is an interpreted, object-oriented, high-level programming language with dynamic semantics. 

The programming language has been notably used to create Netflix’s recommendation algorithm and software that controls self-driving cars, according to an article by Coursera. The Python interpreter and standard library are freely available in source or binary form for all major platforms from the Python Web site.

A fun fact about Python, creator Guido van Rossum came up with the name while reading published scripts from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.

What is HTML?

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is a coding language used to build websites. Specifically, HTML’s job is to label and organize content such as headings, paragraphs, lists and images, so that the web browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, etc.) knows how the page should look.

What is CSS?

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a coding language that pairs with HTML. It works by defining a series of rules for how the HTML should look (colors, spacing, etc). CSS is helpful for establishing the layout and personality of a website.

What is JavaScript?

JavaScript (JS) can be combined with HTML/CSS to bring websites to life. JavaScript is a versatile programming language that can be used for animation, dynamic apps, interactive games and more.

The Importance of Understanding a “Stack”

While JavaScript has been the most commonly used programming language for the past nine years, it’s important to mention that professional programmers are often fluent in several languages that make up what is called a “stack”.

A stack is a set of languages or frameworks that work together to accomplish common computing tasks. For example, HTML/CSS and JavaScript make up what is called a “front-end stack” because these languages are used to create what you see while on a website. Python, PHP, and SQL make up the “back-end stack” and are used to handle website databases and control how websites function with hosts and servers.

Differences and Similarities Between Programming Languages

When the question comes up, “which is better, Python or JavaScript?”, it really depends on what kind of computing tasks you might be interested in doing. Front-end developers (HTML/CSS and Javascript) spend more time working on the design, layout and the function of websites, while back-end developers (Python, PHP, and SQL) are concerned with security, networks and databases. No matter which language interests you the most, as a professional programmer you will need to study and learn the accompanying languages that make up your chosen stack.

When the question comes up, “which is better, Python or JavaScript?”, it really depends on what kind of computing tasks you might be interested in doing.

Why BSD Uses JS and HTML/CSS

At BSD Education, we feel strongly that any type of coding and digital skills instruction is vital to a student’s education and future in navigating our digital world. We have chosen the front-end stack as a part of our digital skills curriculum because it satisfies a range of interests, including design, layout, functionality, UI/UX, gaming, AI and VR. By learning three languages together to develop more interests, and ultimately more skills, students are provided a more complete learning experience that learning one language can’t match. This broad range of skills stretches beyond the keyboard and includes key computational thinking and critical thinking skills vital to learning in any other core subject.

In addition, when we think about the most powerful technologies that we use everyday, most of them operate in the web browser, which is what HTML/CSS and JavaScript are used for. Every website and web application that you have ever used were made using this front-end stack. 

If students are interested in becoming computer scientists, they may need to learn Java, Python, JavaScript, or other languages depending on the accreditation program. For example, Java has been the language of choice for the Advanced Placement college equivalent course that is available in many High Schools in the U.S. Many commonly used frameworks for Computer Science do not even list a specific programming language, but instead provide a map for concepts that are found in most languages, like algorithms, variables, control structures and modularity. Both the British IGCSE and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) publish curricular guidelines and standards that focus on computer science concepts instead of specific languages. 

What Fits for Your Classroom?

Ultimately when it comes to the Python versus JavaScript and HTML/CSS showdown, it really depends on what you want to do with your knowledge of programming and what goals you have as a developer. 

Whether you have no experience or are ready to take your tech education to the next level, BSD provides the support and intuitive platform to help you teach these front-end stack digital skills. In a matter of minutes using BSD, students will begin building their first website, create a mobile app, or even a fun game they can play with friends. BSD makes it possible for any teacher of any subject to incorporate coding and digital skills into their curriculum so students are future ready.

Contact us today so we can address your unique needs and develop a partnership that will help your students reach further and have an experience that will equip them with the skills they will need for tomorrow, no matter what career path they choose. 

What Are The Benefits of Technology in the Classroom?

You might be asking, what are the benefits of technology in the classroom? It’s fair to say that when I was in school, the use of technology in the classroom wasn’t widespread. There were no personal laptops for each student, no digital planners, no classes on coding or programming. I remember when the teacher would pull out the overhead projector for lectures. My school certainly wasn’t set up for the level of technology use that teachers were faced with recently.

It’s exciting to think back on how much has changed in the educational landscape since then! Since my high school graduation, social media use has skyrocketed, video conferencing has streamlined and improved greatly. Most students have personal laptops but also smartphones, iPads, watches, and Alexas provide any information they could possibly want to know.

Technology changes on a dime. As education continues to systemically evolve, we’re going to see the many benefits of educational technology come to fruition over the next few decades.

Read on!

Students are more engaged

“Bueller?” This scene from “Ferris Bueller” has to be the epitome of a bored, disinterested classroom. Whether out of a lack of interest in the topic or distraction, two things are happening here. They aren’t paying attention and they aren’t learning.

It’s been 35 years since that film came out and the classroom looks entirely different. Now teachers compete with a myriad of distractions that continues to evolve. So you may be wondering, how can teachers engage their students more effectively in the digital age? Well, I’m glad you asked! There are many ways to harness the positive power of technology and capture your student’s attention at the same time.

Meet them where they are – on devices, social media, websites, games – and bring this technology into your lessons, homework, projects. For example, their five-paragraph essay can become a blog. Now, not only are they more invested in what they’re learning but they’re building essential digital skills.

Part of increasing student engagement in any class is giving them an applicable reason for being there. Something they can relate to. Utilizing the interconnectivity of technology in the classroom helps you reap the benefits. Plus, your students are more likely to retain the information.

Incorporates different learning styles

There’s a big debate in education between the use of more personalized learning vs. a one-size-fits-all approach and it’s valid. When you have 30+ students in your class, it’s more difficult to create unique lesson plans that engage each student. Especially when you’re already overworked and underpaid as it is. We get it.

One of the many benefits of technology is that it provides an easier way to reach each student’s unique learning styles, playing to their various strengths and respond more intently to you.

  • If your student is more aural, it means they retain information better by hearing it. Some ideas for using technology to your advantage here:
    – Record your lessons! You can turn these into a private podcast that they can re-listen to as they study at home, use audiobooks. This helps you as well for any student that misses a class, they can be directed to your “podcast” and quickly get caught up.
    – Students can use an app like Me Book that allows them to listen to stories and record themselves reading.
    – Language teachers can make use of AI robots and chatbots to speak to students in different languages so they can practice as if talking to a real person.
  • Visual learners respond more to things they can see and are prone to retain more information if they can read/watch it rather than listen.
    – Try incorporating more graphic visuals aids to make the connection, or using more interactive videos in your lessons.
    – You can use technology like coding to allow student to visually code a website, or apps like Canva and Photoshop to create graphics that underline their classroom comprehension and level of engagement.\

Improves Collaboration

There are multiple benefits of technology is that it fosters a higher level of collaboration, not just within your classroom but on a global scale. It’s now easier than ever for students to work together with project management tools, video conference breakout rooms, social media, and even as simple as AirDropping files to someone in under a few minutes. This collaboration also works to the teachers’ benefit! If you’re grading papers, students can now see all of your notes and all communication can be kept in one space. Thus giving you more access to teaching students even outside of the school walls and time.

Embracing the global reach of the internet offers up exciting new possibilities for your students as well. Similar to pen-pals, maybe you have a sister school in a different country, and not only can the students communicate with each other as friends but they can also work remotely as teammates in completing a project. This would take a lot of planning of course, but the possibilities are endless!

Prepares Children for the Future

The single most important benefit of technology in the classroom is that it prepares students to be future-ready. We know that all students will need digital skills for their futures, but there are also many challenges when it comes to teaching digital skills.

At BSD Education, our goal is to prepare students for their undefined futures where artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and data privacy are all emerging topics with tremendous impacts on society. To accomplish this, we embed four approaches into our curriculum that have been identified as future proof and fundamental:

a) Computational Thinking
b) Design Thinking
c) Coding/Programming
d) Digital Citizenship

These are just a few of the many benefits to utilizing more technology in the classroom but I’d love to hear from you on how you use technology to boost student engagement or substantiate a lesson plan? Send me a message at bd@bsd.education or leave a comment below! We’d love to hear from you!

What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular

Design Thinking is a professional process that engineers and designers use to ideate, prototype, and test new inventions, ideas, and products, emerging in K-12 education as a strategy for use in the classroom as well as a tool used for total school improvement.

SparkTruck inspired me to later create my own mobile Design Thinking vehicle called the Geekbus. Since then, I have gone on to teach Design Thinking to students and educators all over the world.

So, what is Design Thinking? I highly recommend this quick video introduction to get acquainted.

There are 5 main steps to Design Thinking:

1. Empathy

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test.

The first step is the most impactful because it requires designers/students to consider the needs of the customer/user. This allows for the development of crucially needed social-emotional skills.

In contrast, the Engineering Design Process does not include this step and goes straight to the ideation and the problem-solving stage without careful consideration of the needs of the people involved. 

There are many ways to gain empathy for the customers/users that you’re designing for, but the best way is to speak directly to them through interviews to ask about their needs, pain-points and to get advice about what they really want and not just what we think they want.

If interviewing customers/users isn’t a viable option, you can brainstorm through empathetic thinking to imagine scenarios where people would use your idea and how they might respond to it.

Design Thinking can be used to create and make products, processes, events, organizations, and even food! The process is adaptable to many situations and once you have some practice with it, it can become a culture-changing practice that can be transformative at whole-school levels.

While Design Thinking can be a useful and practical tool for many situations, it also has limits. One criticism of Design Thinking is that it becomes a crutch and doesn’t help to cultivate what the d.school is calling Design Abilities.

Their 8 Core Design Abilities are: 

  • Navigate Ambiguity
  • Learn from Others
  • Synthesize Information
  • Rapidly Experiment
  • Move Between Concrete and Abstract
  • Build and Craft Intentionally
  • Communicate Deliberately
  • Design your Design Work

If you want to read more about these 8 Core Design Abilities, I recommend that you read the d.school’s description of each ability and the need for an approach that moves beyond Design Thinking.
Design Thinking has left a lasting impact on me and my work, which continues to this day in my work as an ed-tech leader and curriculum designer at BSD Education.

At BSD, we use the Design Think process to develop a new curriculum and to build new features on our custom coding platform. If you want to learn more about our approach at BSD, check out our certified curriculum design process.

Why Digital Skills Should be in Your Learning Loss Recovery Plan

The pandemic has affected all aspects of life, and the disruption felt by students is no exception. A phrase that has been top of mind lately is learning loss. An analysis by McKinsey puts the issue into measurable terms:

“Students in [the] sample learned only 67 percent of the math and 87 percent of the reading that grade-level peers would typically have learned by the fall. On average, that means students lost the equivalent of three months of learning in mathematics and one-and-a-half months of learning in reading.”

The American Rescue Plan earmarks 20% of a district’s new funds for learning loss recovery to address the issue. So while educators debate learning lost vs. students learning differently, many schools are looking at ways to make up for time lost. 

How do Digital Skills Become Part of the Solution?

Digital skills are well suited to be part of the solution. Digital skills like web, game, and app development are fun and engaging ways to reinforce math, English, science, and social concepts through real-world application. Another benefit of digital skills education is that it enhances cognitive skills such as computational and critical thinking, which can lift students’ abilities across subject matter — a vital benefit after an unconventional school year. (Further reading on the link between computational thinking and core subjects.)

As a digital skill teaching and learning solution, complete with projects designed for core subject integration, BSD Education can help reinforce core subject learning and develop transferable skills, assisting in learning loss recovery.

Digital Skills Reinforce Core Subjects

Mathematics and language arts have been pointed to as core subjects hit hardest this past school year. Yet, in many ways, digital skills empower someone to process information and communicate in our era. Said differently, digital skills are the intersection of math and language arts, where reasoning and problem-solving happen. 

To illustrate the point, we can look at a couple of BSD’s projects. A popular project this last year has been “The People Who Inspire Me,” which asks students to reflect on those who have impacted their lives. Students sew traditional writing and reflection processes with new digital components to build a website using industry-standard HTML and CSS. In one of BSD’s AI projects, “Digital Assistant,” students use JavaScript, and the link between math and programming becomes apparent. Students work with variables, conditionals, patterns, and percentages and use arithmetic operators, arrays, and random functions to program outcomes. 

From science to social studies, there are many cross-curricular learning objectives digital skills can support. I even have a teacher who modified our “Trivia Game Maker” to be a Spanish Quiz.

Creating Digital Products Captures Attention & Imagination

Classes always aim to be engaging, but this becomes even more important for learning loss recovery plans. That includes utilizing out-of-school time (afterschool, summer enrichment, extended school year), as the American Rescue Plan suggests. Learning digital skills is fun, and that makes them perfect for the task at hand. Allowing students to create is inherently engaging. Whether students are developing an AI chatbot, website, or platformer game, digital skills projects capture attention, spark imagination, and harness passion.

Agency is a core value of BSD’s evidence-based pedagogy. That means that each student finishes with a unique piece of work, not a cookie-cutter experience. Projects are designed with extension activities in mind and allow students to customize further or reenvision their work. Students stay engaged as they decide the direction to take their project and what to incorporate. My most successful lessons come from students’ refreshing ideas, going back to their work, and implementing something new. Through creating, students will entrench themselves in their learning loss and assist in their recovery.

Learning Digital Skills Develops Broad Cognitive Abilities

Teaching 21st-century skills means honing in on strategies that will have lasting impacts. These strategies include identifying computational thinking, design thinking, coding/programming, and digital citizenship as future-proof and fundamental. Computational thinking is the process of breaking down a problem to solve it. It includes decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithms. Steps for design thinking include empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing to create based on the needs and experience. In short, developing these abilities enhances someone’s ability to think and can help accelerate learning in the future. With the right approach, these skills are present in a digital skills education program. 

Website, app, and product development and design projects that utilize coding are ideal exercises for building future-proof skills. Our pedagogy accentuates these abilities and the transferable aspects of digital skills learning. It also includes the space to reflect on digital citizenship. Our curriculum is designed for all students, not just those who will become computer programmers. These disciplines have broad applicability across subject matter and are essential to many job functions in the working world. Meaning, these skills follow students throughout their education and careers.

Implementing a Digital Skills Program

Incorporating digital skills in your recovery plan enriches and reinforces core subject learning. It focuses students in engaging and imaginative ways and develops and enhances cognitive skills like computational thinking. However, although learning loss is a top issue as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, other trends make digital skills highly relevant. Most notable is the shifting future of work. As another article from McKinsey suggests:

“In the digital era, educators need to expand their understanding of what it means to be literate in the 21st century: not replacing traditional learning but complementing it. As a result, computer programming and digital literacy are becoming core skills.” 

Of course, implementing a digital skills program can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be. BSD Education partners with educators to make implementing a digital skills program easy. We make it turnkey by providing all the necessary pieces: platform, curriculum, professional development, and highly responsive support. With the correct methods in place, educators can hasten learning loss recovery. Using digital skills, they can also encourage students to develop future-proof skills with a curious, adaptable, resilient, and empathetic mindset. 

Addressing the Digital Divide: Where Do We Go From Here?

There is a student I used to teach, who will remain unnamed to protect his privacy. He was a student a part of my STEM Honors class, and he always showed promising potential in coding assignments. Throughout my time getting to know him, I learned, like most of his classmates, he was highly motivated and believed in his academic prowess. Since the emergence of Virtual Learning, I’ve watched the challenges of adjusting to this time period change his motivation and diminish his belief in his ability to achieve academically. 

This year is his junior year in high school. When I was in high school, my junior year was the toughest, yet most rewarding year in high school; it was the year that determined my post-secondary success. Like most students who are attending an under-served school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year is his first time having a personal laptop and he is living with the expectation to thrive in a completely new learning environment. 

This experience for him and his peers has been devastating, traumatizing, stressful, overwhelming, depressing, and draining. However, he is resilient. But should he have to experience this much courage, independence, and pressure at his age? My grandma once told me, “you should never have to display that much independence”. 

What we all need is support. 

This past year has emphasized the importance of understanding what it takes to holistically support the academic success and personal development of our youth. Virtual Learning has forcibly engaged every stakeholder at every stage of a child’s development to acknowledge two important determinants of our future: 

1) What our children are learning

2) How they are using technology to learn.

When addressing the Digital Divide, I think it is crucial that we prioritize adequately informing and including every stakeholder in all planning and implementation processes for integrating technology and Digital Literacy into learning environments. Parents raising children, Students learning information, Educators teaching courses, Administrators leading schools, and Tech Professionals creating learning products ALL are the creators of our tomorrow. 

We are our support; and in this support, we all need the grace to adjust – as we do so rapidly.

There are a few key focus areas I’ve noticed in my local school system, of Philadelphia, that are a part of the disparities of the Digital Divide: 

Transforming School Systems and Policies

Due to the emergence of Virtual Learning, many schools had to rapidly adjust and revamp their systems and practices. This transition has revealed how much more critical attention needs to be given to what students are learning about technology, and how they’re learning to use technology. 

This can be achieved by making a greater investment in setting and implementing grade-level standards for Digital Literacy, as well as, training talent to uphold these expectations.

Information Sharing and Literacy

During this Virtual Learning experience, many parents, staff, and students have felt either overwhelmed with information or under-informed on certain aspects that have affected the learning process. For example, there have been scenarios where internet providers have had outages, but the change in service was not effectively communicated to families; which has resulted in students missing information and feeling helpless. 

There have also been moments where school administrations have made huge changes to their school’s Virtual Learning practices without adequate notice or input from families and staff; which has resulted in immense fatigue and disorientation. Some school districts may have not had these experiences, but this is what’s disproportionately happening in under-served communities. 

This can be changed by re-evaluating the effectiveness of communication channels, and equitably including key stakeholders as consultants throughout the process of information dissemination.

Tech and Wi-Fi Accessibility

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools did not account for whether their students had access to technology or Wi-Fi. Why is that? Yes, students were primarily learning in schools, but learning also happens at home; and for the past 25 years, access to information has primarily been provided through the Internet. 

This past year has revealed a better understanding of what students have access to, and how their homelife really affects their education. There are students in homes where their Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to host multiple devices streaming at the same time; and the Chromebooks that many students rely on aren’t always able to handle processing multiple apps operating at the same time – such as Zoom, Nearpod, or Google Suite products. 

These limiting factors are critical aspects of our youth’s future success that have been neglected for too long, and it is important to address these issues equitably. 

There are many issues for our youth at risk if we as leaders in education and technology do not respond to these disparities quickly and equitably. One important thing that is at risk is our youth’s ability to properly cultivate and enfranchise themselves from having experiences during their youth. While being forced to stay home, and without adequate resources for many, this time period is diminishing the very essence of having youth; which is time.  

Time to have exposure to different areas to spark their interests; time to take risks or make mistakes; time to refine one’s aptitude to bounce back, try again, and learn how to take calculated risks. Time to create viable niche solutions to make a life for themselves. 

However, this moment in time also brings about a unique opportunity for all the youth to cultivate 21st-century skills that are essential to the future. If more youth are empowered to explore, take risks, and be creative with technology; they can exponentially grow from this experience. 

But with the Digital Divide widening daily, will all youth be a part of the world’s digital future? That is the question I think is important for us to ask ourselves as leaders, and act upon in our daily efforts to be the change we want to see in the world.

Research References: 

Critical Examination May Be the Most Important Digital Literacy Skill Yet

Digital literacy skills are not a new topic in education, though they seem to be at the forefront of concern, especially now, with terms like “fake news” and “AI-generated social media.” More than ever, we need students to possess strong digital literacy skills so they can make informed decisions, be competent researchers, and form opinions free of bias. Because of this need, digital literacy is now a common subject in k-12 schools around the world, even major education frameworks like the ISTE Student Standards have digital literacy baked into the themes. 

Despite this, a recent study has shown that students still struggle with basic digital competencies. For example, students were “asked to evaluate Slate’s home page, where some tiles are news stories and others are ads (set off by the words “Sponsored Content”), two-thirds of students couldn’t tell the difference.”  The same study elaborates further by saying “students displayed a tendency to accept websites at face value. Ninety-six percent failed to consider why ties between a climate change website and the fossil fuel industry might lessen that website’s credibility.”

With these troubling findings, it seems as though our current digital literacy education isn’t enough to prepare students for today’s communication minefield. For this reason, I propose that “critical examination” should be the most important lens at which to look at digital literacy. 

When reading articles, watching videos, and viewing other forms of media I often ask students to pull out their magnifying glasses and deerstalker caps to investigate as Sherlock would. Here are a few questions that I would ask them to consider when examining media:

Critical Examination Questions

  1. Who paid for the publication and what effect does that have on the authenticity of the information?
  2. Who is the target audience and how does the media appeal to its audience?
  3. Does the author or producer make money each time you read or view the media and what influence does that have on you reading or viewing the material?
  4. Is the medium trying to persuade your opinion or paint a false impression?
  5. Does the medium cite any references or other works that can be verified?
  6. Can you fact check any of the claims or facts?
  7. Can you find another source that claims the opposite?
  8. Does the medium contain any advertisements, and if so, is it made clear that the medium contains advertisements?

These questions are designed to provoke critical thinking, investigatory discrimination, and inquiry so that students can make inferences and informed decisions about the content that they consume. Critical examination is not just a skill for the classroom, it’s a life skill that you hone over time, making one a conscientious consumer. 

The questions provided are just an example of critical lenses that can be applied to digital literacy, what other critical examination questions might you use with your students? Please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or email.

6 Tech Practices to Improve Student Experience

We’ve had no end to the fantastic technology helping us along as the education landscape changes. However, as engagement and learning experiences have shifted, so have the ways we interact. Here are six tech practices in my classrooms that have improved the student experience this past year.

1. Be available outside of class (reasonably, of course)

If one of my students is showing interest outside of class, I want to meet them with the same level of zeal. So I check our online class chat as prep, which shows the students that go the extra mile that I’m there to work with them even when I don’t see them. And for the students that need a boost, I can review their work and get back to them before the next class, setting them up for better success for when we meet next.

2. Make specific tech practices meaningful through comments on work

Excellent job, and Keep it up are nice and all, but bookend the critical stuff when it comes to the student experience. When I call out specific aspects of a student’s project, I demonstrate that I can tell their work apart from their peers. When I make suggestions that inspire and guide, students are given a greater sense of direction. Commenting on a live document, referencing that individual line of code, or linking to additional resources, helps me integrate this practice with technology and goes beyond the traditional red marker on paper. 

3. Email reminders

The occasional email to students can go a long way in improving the student experience and helping them succeed in class. For example, I have an in-person class that will occasionally meet online during snow days. After some absences and class link confusion, I decided a quick email might do the trick, and like magic, they now all show up.

4. Encourage, but don’t enforce, varying types of virtual participation

I’ve had virtual classrooms with students ranging from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and the variety in types and amount of interaction has been just as wide. Your school requirements notwithstanding, I aim to be approachable regarding things like “cameras on” and verbal participation. Virtual hand-raise or Zoom chat might not just be easier for you to manage, but the preferred way to speak up from the student. But if an AFK turns into an MIA, I’ll call them out on it. There’s a balance of comfort and accountability that’s important to maintain.

5. Share screen collaboration

This year, some of my most successful periods have been when students share their screen, which I suppose is the new “standing in front of the class.” The level of individual engagement and class collaboration exceeds expectations when my students share what they’ve been working on. It’s even better when we do a bit of “bug hunting” and solve the coding mistake in a student’s project. I’ve had the same results when projecting student work for all to see in an in-person or hybrid class.

6. Virtual backgrounds and other goofiness

Sometimes the right background, emoji, or filter sets the mood just right, especially on a Friday. Your mileage may vary, but you know your kids best, so consider bringing some fun to a virtual class when needed. Just ensure them that you’re here live and not a cat.

Since online space has become an educational platform, we must utilize its strengths to work for both teachers and students for continued success. So, if you have class tips and tech practices that improve the student experience, let’s keep the conversation going! Contact BSD here. We would love to hear from you.

Can Technologist and Educator Agree on Digital Terms?

For non-technical people, the digital terms coding, computing, and programming are synonymous. Therefore the issue is irrelevant. However, each sector has its own collection of terms with distinct meanings and contexts. This is especially true when discussing technology, which is always evolving. For instance, “spam” isn’t edible, “bugs” are not insects, and an “Easter Egg” is not just used at Easter.

The meanings of coding and programming differ depending on who you ask and the industry you work in, leading to a state of confusion.  

As the Hour of Code week approaches, we have invited our VP of Education, Mark Barnett, and our CTO, Nickey Khemchandani, to reflect on the significance of digital terms, what counts in coding education, and how educators and technologists may benefit from collaboration.


What’s the difference between coding and programming in digital terms?

Nickey Khem: Coding is the translation of Code from one language to another. Coding doesn’t deal with complicated issues. Programming, on the other hand, is the act of producing code using algorithms and thorough analysis.

For example, Coding languages such as HTML and CSS focus on structure and designing an interface. As a programming language, JavaScript is used to develop functionality.

Mark Barnett: The difficulty with using these digital terms interchangeably is that they generalize roles that need diverse skill sets.

Does the misuse of digital terminology create a problem?

Which digital terms have had the most impact in the education technology industry?

We commonly use a computational thinking cornerstone called “abstraction” at BSD Education. This means you focus only on the important details while ignoring irrelevant information. 

In our project, “The People Who Inspire Me,” we guide students through the process of creating a single webpage. Students highlight three people who inspire them, but we break each step down into objectives. We also assist with HTML and CSS syntax. It allows students to focus on each component until the project is complete.

What needs to change in the educational system today?

NK: The digital curriculum taught in schools must be updated to be relevant. Students today live in a completely different world than in the 1980s and 1990s. More than ever, curricula should contain practical, real-world examples. In communication, for example, the use of social media must be incorporated. However, in some educational systems, the focus is mainly on historical techniques. 

MB: As Nickey said, curriculum relevance is an important component of change that must be addressed. With tech education, it’s best to teach children through projects. Project-based learning allows them to create something useful or functional rather than learning through textbooks or tutorials. For example, your first webpage or a virtual reality environment with sophisticated systems are both projects at BSD.

Should coding be for everyone?

MB: One amazing thing that Hour of Code has done is expose children all across the world to programming, even if just for one hour. Coding, like reading and writing, opens you new ways to share your knowledge, ideas, and voice with the world.

NK: Coding can be a form of creative expression, but it can also lead towards understanding new ways to break down problems into smaller steps and solve unique challenges. While we certainly don’t expect every child to become professional technologists, we want children to have some conceptual understanding of how the technologies that they use every day, work. 

What can educators and technologists learn from each other by collaborating?

MB: As a teacher, I believe my role is to assist teachers and students comprehend technology in manageable portions. To do this effectively, I need to understand technology well enough to foresee difficulties. Consulting experts is a great way to learn more about learning technology. At BSD, I regularly talk with Nickey, our CTO, to better understand technological concepts. We discuss big ideas, technical details, and our passion for sharing knowledge.

NK: My role is often to bring the latest and complex technology into the hands of individuals and in BSD’s case, teachers and students. This is, however, easier said than done as a lot of technology requires complex predefined understanding, which is not accessible to someone that well versed in technology to start with. 

This is where I really think the value of having educators on the team, such as our VP of Education, Mark helps.

As a result of our collaboration, we are able to incorporate the most up-to-date educational pedagogies and cutting-edge technology into our curriculum and platform. As a technologist, I have greatly benefited from educators’ ability to better explain digital terms, allowing us to reach more customers.

Conversely, technologists are always on the pulse of the latest happenings in several businesses. Educators benefit from shared research and development, from curriculum evolution to digital tools that increase student engagement.

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Whether you are new to coding or are a seasoned professional, we invite you to try a few of our coding projects during the Hour of Code. Mark and the Education Team at BSD developed 6 unique projects that guide students through programming with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to complete projects in a series called “Code is: Your Voice,” where students are invited to use code as a way to share what’s most important to them. So check them out and let us know what you think. 

How Digital Education is Affecting Young Students

As BSD students, we believe all students should master digital skills and apply them in many situations. That’s why we suggest teaching these skills across subjects, topics, and ages. Even if younger students can’t express it, technology is already second nature.

During the early years, the educational focus is less on cultivating particular technical skills and more about creating digital familiarity, developing ways of thinking (such as computational thinking and design thinking), and building a foundation for fluency. It is never too early for students to begin creating with digital tools and abilities.

The move to virtual teaching and learning this year is therefore a real opportunity for younger students to start this journey earlier as it has forced educators to introduce various technologies and digital skills from a very young age, which was not always the case. 

In fact, children who are digital natives have grown up with a variety of technologies and digital media. However, prior to the advent of virtual learning, early childhood education did not necessarily match with children’s outside-of-school digital experiences.

Whilst many students had excellent experiences, the prevalence of technology and opportunities to learn digital skills were hugely variable and depended on a range of factors, which are nicely summarised by Kate Gilchrist in a blog for LSE: ‘teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards the value of digital technology as part of learning was found to strongly relate to whether they used it or not in their teaching. Teachers lacked confidence and ability in using IT skills connected to the subject taught. There is also a lack of adequate training, professional development, and technical and administrative support for teachers. Many of the curriculums investigated also did not include any provision for developing digital literacy.’ 

As a result, when students learn more technical skills later in life, their proficiency levels can vary greatly.

Virtual teaching and learning, however, have shifted this. Educators had to overcome many of the above challenges to work with students now. Educators have had to find a way to digitize their curriculum, and with trial and error comes confidence and knowledge. Whilst teaching young children virtually has its challenges, this educational experience is positive for the development of children’s digital fluency and foundation. 

Why JavaScript Is a Better Programming Language for Children

Back in 2015, the “kids coding in school” movement started picking up traction. Today, programming languages are being taught in thousands of schools globally. With the availability of many programming languages, educators face a dilemma on which programming language they can introduce to students. We found that schools usually opt to get their students started on platforms like Scratch or MIT’s App Inventor which are structured with drag and drop interfaces. The visual interface and the engaging sounds and animations help captivate young learners and get them started. But once they’ve overcome the ‘getting started hurdle,’ with respect to progression, the questions that naturally come to educators’ minds are “What’s next?” or “What about real coding/programming?”

Today, kids are exposed and use a plethora of high-tech products that affect the level of standards they set on what they can build with programming. Although the drag and drop interfaces are effective in introducing the concepts of programming, they usually fall short on meeting the expectations of young learners on what to learn next. 

To be able to deliver a technology curriculum that meets their expectations, we at BSD Education choose to begin student journeys by first listening to what they have to say and understand what they are looking for. This leads to feedback from 8 – 10 year-olds asking for real-world application:

I love coding on scratch, but i haven’t built anything like the apps i download on my phone

Can I use Scratch to build instagram?

How do I build an E-Commerce website to make money?

Nowadays, most interactions students experience occur on the web. Understanding the web starts by learning HTML and CSS, the fundamental coding languages that run on the front of every website in the world. This is compulsory for every student to learn to be able to express themselves through the web. After understanding the fundamental code, creating further complexity requires the learning of a programming language to allow for interactivity and functionalities into projects. 

At this stage, we discovered there are two popular approaches to programming that educators usually take –  Python and JavaScript. While our online platform BSD Online supports both JavaScript and Python, we opted to introduce students to JavaScript first. Here’s why:

Accessibility with any computer

Our mission as a organization is to make technology accessible to all. With JavaScript, all students need is a computer with an internet connection and a browser, no installations, no setup time.

Interactive, real-world projects which help with student retention

When teaching young learners programming, the traditional approach is to have them learn the fundamentals in a text-based environment known as the console.

Image by Codeacademy.com

But here the usual issue we discovered is the drop in engagement. Students lose interest and are not motivated to go beyond what the curriculum offers. If this continues, it would be considered as a failure in our duty as educators to inspire them to deepen their learning. JavaScript allows a natural progression after learning HTML and CSS.

We introduced it in one of our technology projects such as building an online coffee shop. In this project, they got to build an e-commerce site as well as decide on what to sell and how to price it. To further enhance the experience, students were able to share their shop to anyone, anywhere, with a click of a button. This project offers the real-world aspect to the students and what ignites their curiosity and brings the lightbulb spark that we educators always want to see among them.

Click on the images below to try these projects out yourself:

Online Coffee Shop - BSD Education
An online coffee shop built by Eugene, aged 12

Snake Game - BSD Education
A snake game built by Chloe, aged 9 (Use W,A,S,D to move)


Ease of accessing technology depth

While both languages provide an almost infinite amount of depth, we found students building more complex projects for their personal projects using JavaScript vs when they built with Python. Adding sound to create engagement for the end-user, creating more complex levels in their games, thinking about visual animations on their websites to help visitors find content, are some examples we started seeing students build into their projects.

With technology like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence requiring steep learning curves, JavaScript allows us to scaffold the experience so children as young as 10 years old can create amazing projects using Machine Learning.

AI Personal Stylist - BSD Education
AI Personal Stylist – Built with BSDs AI curriculum – Grade 6

To conclude, we recommend JavaScript as the programming language to start with for children due to its strength in accessibility, ease of use to create visually-appealing projects, and the convenience of being able to dive into more complex concepts.

Programming plays a key role as one of the many digital skills kids will need in the future. At BSD Education, we aim to continue developing curriculum and technology to help schools educate young learners. We believe the future is exciting and holds infinite opportunities for our young minds today and if we can nurture them to continue creating and learning, the possibilities are endless.