Kids Are Crazy for Coding

classroom coding computer lab

Teaching code is becoming a big priority in K-12 classrooms

Whoever thought coding – and the people who do it – would be, well, cool? Clearly, it’s time to redefine “cool” in today’s 21st Century classrooms. If fact, students are so crazy about coding, that educators are scrambling to catch-up. That means training teachers, finding resources, and building coding into classroom plans.

For the uninitiated, “coding” is the modern day word for computer programming. It’s learning to write the languages used by the digital technology that dominates our lives. If you know how to code, you not only understand how these technologies (software, apps, games and websites) work, but you can maximize and customize their functionality – and, more important, create new tools.

Kids Love Coding

Given students’ current level of connectivity, it’s no surprise they love coding. So says Roxanne Emadi, a strategist with Code.org, an advocacy group who believes programming should be part of the core curriculum, alongside other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra. Code.org is also focused on increasing participation by girls and underrepresented students of color.

“Even if it’s something simple like a kid programming a maze or programming a robot, when you can see your work brought to life, that’s where light bulbs go off.” Code.org provides (at no charge for U.S. schools) professional development for teachers, nationally recognized courses and curriculum in a blended-learning environment, materials to promote computer science to parents/students, and support for all grade levels K-12.

Why the Rush to Code?

Advocates for adding coding to the curriculum say it’s become crucial for students to hold at least a basic understanding of coding. In her article this past spring, New York Times writer Beth Gardiner wrote about proponents’ three-pronged case for the coding movement. “Such knowledge is important not only to individual students’ future career prospects, but also for their countries’ economic competitiveness and the technology industry’s ability to find qualified workers.”

Yet current statistics show a growing gap in what is being taught in K-12 and beyond, and what employers need now and in the next 10 years.

The Computer Science Education Week website provides these numbers:

  • • There will be 1 million more computing jobs than students by 2020.
  • • More than 50 percent of all projected math and science occupations are
    in computing occupations. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 71 percent of all new jobs in STEM during the next decade will be computer science.)
  • • Computing occupations are among the highest-paying jobs for new
    graduates. Yet fewer than 3% of college students graduate with a degree in
    computer science.
  • • In 25 states, computer science can’t count toward high school graduation
    math or science requirements.
  • • AP Computer Science is taught in only 5% of U.S. high schools.
  • • Nine out of 10 U.S. schools don’t offer any computer programming
    classes.
  • • Fewer than 20% of AP Computer Science students are women.
  • • Fewer than 10% are Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino.

Where to Begin

As shown, the majority of our schools lag in offering children the opportunity to participate in creating the technology that surrounds them. But the challenges of doing so (beyond funding alone) are real.

Given the relatively young age of coding, curriculum designers have little pedagogical research to guide them. Which programming language should come first? Should students start with programming or learn basic principles? How do teachers educate mixed-ability groups – some with sophisticated skills and some with none? How can teachers get adequate training if computer science isn’t their expertise?

Online Resources Rule

Though it may seem daunting, educators are making progress. Estonia is now teaching first graders how to create their own computer games. As of this past fall, England launched a new national curriculum: Starting at age five, all students will learn the basics of coding; beginning at age 11, they will be instructed in the use of at least two programming languages. The country’s collective thinking is that learning code should have the same importance of other key subjects.

What about U.S. schools? The recent explosion in online programming resources is tipping the scales. Edutopia blogger Vicki Davis published a post titled “15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer” last December. She offered a host of apps and tools to teach coding year round for ages 8 and up.

For teens, check out one of the newest games for teaching code at www.helpgidget.org. It’s designed to teach computer programming concepts to novice programmers through debugging puzzles. Its creator used a truly collaborative approach to appeal to the game’s target audience. Prior to its public release, over 800 online participants played various versions of the game, and over 60 teenagers played and created their own levels during four summer camps in 2013 and 2014. Users can create their own levels (i.e., create their own programs from scratch) successfully after playing through the initial game.

Hour of Code 2014

Code.org can attest to the receptivity of coding in American schools. Although the Seattle-based non-profit launched only last year (as a “hobby project” by co-founders Ali and Hadi Partovi) Code.org is already working on teacher training in some of the country’s biggest school districts in New York, Chicago and Denver. Ms. Emadi reports that 35,000 teachers had signed up to use its tutorials as of this past spring.

What’s more, Code.org will sponsor the second annual Computer Science Education Week Dec. 8 – 14, 2014. During that week, educators are encouraged and supported in teaching an “Hour of Code.” The global movement aims to reach millions of students (promotional materials say ages 4 to 104) in 180-plus countries. The organization reports that last year,15 million students worldwide learned an Hour of Code. And, although anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event using one-hour tutorials available in over 30 languages at the Code.org website, its founders are particularly thrilled about last year’s deluge of female participants.

“The Hour of Code is introducing tens of millions of girls of all ages to this historically male-dominated field, and millions of these girls will continue learning beyond their first hour,” said Hadi Partovi. Visitors to the Code.org website can view encouraging video clips, including one from 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai.

Classroom, Camps and Clubs

The hardware and software tools needed to teach coding may already be in place for many schools. If not, Code.org offers guidance on how to advocate for computer science classes within districts.

The organization also works with schools that have limited computer banks. It suggests making a Code.org “station” or “center” where students rotate through using the computers available and doing other activities while they’re not on the computer. If no computers are available, students can do “unplugged” style activities, which are teacher-led and designed to teach computer science concepts sans devices. The ideal classroom arrangement would feature highly versatile desks and seating, and mobile power sources to quickly adapt the layout to the lesson and available computers/devices.

Eager parents can also find coding camps, coding clubs and other options for their kids online. In Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently reported on how the state’s students are participating in organized coding events known as CoderDojos, which are popping up across the state. Held bimonthly at the University of Minnesota, CoderDojo Twin Cities is believed to be the biggest event of its kind in the nation and typically fills up minutes after registration opens.

Unlock Students’ Futures

Ultimately, even if students don’t “get under the hood” to write or change code, having a basic understanding of code goes a long way in moving beyond a device’s basic functionality. That thinking is moving the coding craze far beyond the classroom. Codeacademy, an educational website, reports more than 24 million people worldwide have signed up for free tutorials.

For today’s students, coding can only give them advantages. Even if they don’t become professional programmers, coding is the key to unlock their futures. And that is truly cool.

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SELECTED SOURCES

Adding Coding to the Curriculum,” by Beth Gardiner, The New York Times, International Education, March 23, 2014.

Coding in schools: A is for algorithm,” The Economist, April 26, 2014.

From the website: http://code.org/

From the website: http://csedweek.org/resource_kit/blurbs

From the website: http://helpgidget.org/

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai Urges Girls To Participate In Code.org’s Hour Of Code,” by Sarah Buhr, Tech Crunch, Oct 13, 2014.

Schools Scramble to Catch Up On Coding,” by Kim McGuire, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 20, 2014.

Why Basic Coding Should Be a Mandatory Class in Junior High,” by Tim Bajarin, TIME.com, June 16, 2014.

15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer),” by Vicki David, edutopia, Dec. 4, 2013.

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