It's an event worth celebrating. Believe it or not, the teaching of computer science has fallen by the wayside in the past few years, We had moved away from understanding the intricate engineering behind computers and technology in general - to focusing more on using it as a tool for productivity and communication. That's no way to understand or celebrate the innovations of technology, especially when we are falling behind as a country in preparing students for these lucrative careers that will further us as a nation.
Did you know that, in half of our country, a computer science (CS) class in high school does not count as credit toward graduation? This changed only recently in California, which may as well be deemed the capital of computer science. But - there are still no clear pathways for teachers to deliver CS instruction or become certified to do so. There are no curricular standards, either. We are not guided to teach it, despite that CS is a "top paying college degree and computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average" (CA state statistics from Code.org, here).
Thanks to the growing resources on the 'net, students that want to extend their knowledge may learn to program on other platforms, such as Python, HTML & CSS, and more through tools such as Kahn Academy.
If we look around, and there are obvious reasons for all students to learn at least the foundations of coding (note that "programming" and "coding" are interchangeable). For example:
- Coding teaches students sequence and applied logic. They are required to plan (much like storyboarding or outlining) and then understand pieces of code, then arrange them in a way that results in a certain outcome. As learning progresses, the smaller parts can become part of a larger whole.
- It also teaches a significant amount of critical thinking & troubleshooting. Failure is imminent, due to anything from a missing or incorrect line of code to a missing apostrophe or semicolon. It's maddening, and it teaches persistence, patience, and attention to detail. If it's not required by our students' future vocations, it will certainly help.
- Computer science and coding also require "systems thinking", which aids students in better understanding how systems are intertwined and function together. They promotes higher-order thinking, and these skills transfer into other academic areas.
Many schools have adopted the Hour of Code. We celebrated with them by asking students to try the tutorials presented by Code.org and other platforms. You can a selection of these tools presented at http://piratescode.weebly.com, along with photos of your children programming. They're having a blast trying to solve programming puzzles, and learning so much along the way.
I'm personally excited about the nation-wide attention to coding. But, I'm concerned about its frivolity among schools and the press. If we're to give computer science the attention it truly deserves, it needs to be carefully woven into the curricula. Students should absolutely be introduced through an exciting platform such as Code.org, full of celebrity tutorials and fun characters to program.
But - there is a rich history to computer science that is largely ignored, and other topics within the field to attend to, such as algorithms, encryption, information theory and more. Additionally, there is little transition for students, so far, from visual programming to written code; this is a significant weakness of the Hour of Code movement that needs to be incorporated in school programs.
But for now, let's just let coding get the limelight it deserves, It's quite a movement, and has garnered the attention of districts, states, policy holders... even President Barack Obama wrote his first line of code alongside a student last week. In the meantime, know that our students at Stevenson are practicing computer science in curricula, after school, in STEM projects, and as electives in the Middle Grades.
I'll leave you with an exceptional project from Anna Watson and Grace Baldridge in Grade 6. They are studying rocks and minerals in Science, and decided to put their coding skills to the test. They programmed this interactive quiz within MIT's Scratch, and shared it with the class.
The graphic below shows a sample of the code required for the project - click here to try out the quiz, and be sure to click the "See Inside" button to see their coding. Amazing!