"What has micro:bit to do with critical thinking and problem-solving?" is the question Marjan often gets when delivering PD sessions within the “21st Century Schools” programme. The programme has been designed by the British Council and supported by the UK government. The pilot phase was conducted in 2017 and 2018 on a sample of chosen schools in the Western Balkans, and after excellent feedback and results from schools, teachers and students, the programme was launched in March 2019. More than 18000 teachers from 4000 schools in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo will be trained until May 2021. Elementary schools in the region will be given almost 110000 micro:bit devices to work with and implement in their teaching.
Local Ministries of Education have embraced and supported the programme. But, is it only about training teachers to code, training them to teach school children aged 10 to 15 to code? Actually, no! micro:bit is only one part of the three-day PD programme. The idea is to support teachers in developing some of the 21st-century core skills with their students. Primarily critical thinking and problem-solving combined with digital literacy. Some of the teachers have heard of micro:bit, have used Arduino and coded in Scratch, so they expect to hear and learn more about micro:bit. Others meet micro:bit for the first time and are a bit “scared” of new technologies, let alone coding! So, how does the programme connect the two? What has micro:bit to do with critical thinking and problem-solving? I would say nothing or everything! It’s up to you to choose and decide!
Critical thinking and problem-solving are skills that can be developed and practised entirely without micro:bit or digital technologies. Making the distinction between fact and opinion, looking for evidence, having in mind different perspectives, asking high-order questions, looking for deep structures... having functional knowledge and solving real-life, non-routine problems... But having all that technology at hand and not using it – Marjan thinks it is a luxury we do not have!!! Depriving our children of using digital resources and tools - is a luxury we do not have!!!
On the other hand, teaching children to code for the sake of coding is one viable option. But not the one we want! This should be only the first step toward something much more important - teaching them how to code or use technology in order to solve problems, in order to find solutions, in order to develop their creativity, to communicate and cooperate better.
If we properly understand that, we will allow our children to play with the micro:bit while thinking they are playing and having fun, and actually we will be directing them towards developing their essential skills that are of such importance for life-long learning, for boosting their employment prospects, for preparing them to compete in the global labour market one day.
If we allow for the micro:bit to really enter not only our IT classrooms but also our Science, English, Maths or Geography classrooms, I firmly believe that the question is not whether it “will” transform out teaching practice and thus revolutionise our education. The question that remains is “How?”.
And the answer is entirely in our (teachers’) hands! The children are ready! Are we?