Reading, writing, arithmetic – and computer coding?
Coding is a crucial part of being literate, according to educators and employers who say that America’s students should learn how to code so they can participate in the high-tech economy.
When should children start? They’re already getting started in kindergarten. So we decided to take a look at news stories about how this trend is playing out in classrooms.
When adults code, they use a coding language such as Java or Python to write instructions for computers. Now researchers have come up with an easier way for children to code using images.
In the eSchool News article, “Coding with the Kindergarten Crowd,” Laura Devaney writes, “Introducing coding to kindergarten students helps them reflect on their own learning as they develop 21st-century skills such as problem solving and creativity, experts say.”
“Tufts University and MIT collaborated to design ScratchJr, a free app that teaches programming concepts to K-2 students.”
An Associated Press story reports that with ScratchJr, “children can snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters and other elements in their project move, jump, talk and change size. Users can modify various elements in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, and even insert their own photos.”
“‘When many people think of computer programming, they think of something very sophisticated,’” co-developer Michel Resnick of MIT said. “‘But we don’t think it has to be that way.’”
Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce
“What’s going on here isn’t complicated: There is an enormous mismatch between the supply and demand for computer programmers,” the Wall Street Journal says. “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, one million programming jobs in the U.S. will go unfilled.”
The existing educational pipeline is too narrow, the Journal says, explaining, “traditional institutions, which largely treat introductory computer-science classes as barrier courses designed to weed out all but the most committed students, are demonstrably not meeting the need. This year, the University of Washington could accommodate only a quarter of the qualified students who applied to its computer science major. And this is happening at schools across the country, most of which have seen hockey-stick growth in applications to both be computer-science majors and to take individual courses in recent years.”
Child-Friendly Coding Resources
Last year, millions of students from kindergarten through 12th grade learned computer code as part of “Hour of Code,” “a nationwide campaign embraced by President Obama and featuring free tutorials” by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, according to the Washington Post. The goal is to “get U.S. students interested in computer science.”
Hour of Code was launched by Code.org, a nonprofit organization that is “dedicated to expanding participation in computer science by making it available in more schools, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented students of color. Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science.”
Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit organization “dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology,” says that learning to code not only helps children develop critical thinking skills, “It also encourages them to be not only consumers of technology but also creators.” The organization has a list of coding apps and websites for children on its website.
“We know that deep in their heart, Americans feel that technology is moving super fast, and they’re afraid their kids are going to get left behind,” Hadi Partovi, a co-founder of Code.org, told the Washington Post. “It’s important to keep teaching biology and chemistry. But in this century, learning how the Internet works, what an algorithm does, is as foundational as those other subjects. Not to mention, it also leads to the best jobs in the country.”
We’re curious to see how coding and other early STEM initiatives develop, and we’ll keep an eye on how best practices in the early learning years emerge.