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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Young girl excited to be working on a tablet

Code.org sums up the situation nicely:

Computer science drives innovation in the U.S. economy and society. Despite growing demand for jobs in the field, it remains marginalized throughout the U.S. K-12 education system.

There are many reasons for this. As you well know, teachers are already stretched pretty thin, and often it seems like there's just no bandwidth to add something new to a very full schedule. Additionally, some schools have few or no computers and/or tablets for classroom use.

But the earlier we introduce children to coding, the more comfortable they will be when presented with more in-depth learning opportunities in middle and high school. Also, early exposure to coding helps teach children how important it is to understand computers as the valuable tools they are rather than merely fun playthings.

Kids Want to Code

Even if you don't have a classroom full of future computer programmers, learning the fundamentals of coding provides students with skills that will serve them well in virtually any career they choose. Plus, there are few things that ignite and excite a room full of learners like a coding class.

In my work as the technology chair of our PTA board, I've participated in organizing the Hour of Code for the past two years at my children's school, and Computer Science Week generates a lot of buzz. I've seen firsthand how excited both kids and their parents get over learning to code, but it's really the kids who enjoy the experience the most. (To see that enjoyment, look at the picture above -- it's a second grade coder right after she grasped a new computational thinking task.)

Children want to learn how to code. They want to learn how to make tablets and computers do useful things. They want to learn how to build websites. It's actually a very cool thing to them.

And while "cool" is nice, what really matters are the lasting benefits of building these skill sets:

  • Logical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Persistence
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

So how do we get there? There are many great online resources to help you find the right coding tools for your particular curriculum, including those provided by Code.org and right here on Edutopia. For example:

But what I want to focus on is breaking down the barriers to getting started in your classrooms. . . not some day, but right now.

5 Steps to Start Coding

At J.Y. Joyner Elementary School, we’re lucky to have Jen Bell, our amazing technology teacher. Together, we've put together some advice to help you introduce coding to your curriculum, regardless of your budget or specific circumstances.

1. Get connected.

There are so many educators and organizations that promote computer science. The resources available through Code.org alone are amazing. They offer curriculum and content, live chat or Skype sessions with professionals, and workshops that focus on teaching coding to young children. If you do one thing after reading this, go join the Code Studio for grades K-5 and try to attend a workshop ASAP.

2. Creating a 1:1 classroom isn't necessary.

Don't be hindered by the misconception that every child needs his or her own device. Coding is a language which involves logic and problem solving, so working in pairs is actually a great way to increase production, develop collaboration skills, and allow children the opportunity to take on different roles in a partnership. In fact, there are many "unplugged" activities offered that don't use a device at all.

3. Trust the kids.

Don't underestimate what young children are able to accomplish when educators let go of the wheel and allow students to become the drivers. Just adding one piece of computer science to your curriculum will get the ball rolling, and you'll get the feedback you need from your students to make it even better.

4. Don't go it alone.

If you're a teacher reading this post, there are certainly others like you who will want to implement something and maybe even work with you at your school. And of course, you can reach out to your students' parents and see if there are any geeks (like me!) who would be willing to help out and maybe even come into the classroom. Get those parents involved immediately! Speaking from experience, I can assure you that they will be tremendously excited when asked to share what they know.

5. Make it fun.

Choose age-appropriate resources that allow kids to progress and grow. Apps like Kodable, The Foos, LightBot, Run Mario Run, and Daisy the Dinosaur guide children through a series of puzzles and tasks that allow them make connections with minimal adult intervention, even without a computer (refer back to the Vicki Davis piece mentioned above for more ideas).

Teaching young learners how to code on a large scale will help change the paradigm of children, and ultimately adults, from being technology consumers to technology producers. And that's precisely what our students -- and our country -- need right now. Don't wait for conditions to be perfect, or for that new batch of classroom tablets to arrive. Just jump in and take action today.

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Comments (15) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Matt Harrell's picture
Matt Harrell
Founder of MemberHub.com and passionate about parent engagement.

Craig, that's pretty cool that your son wanted to learn programming. What was it that inspired him?

J Pittman's picture

Great post, thanks. I have middle school children who have both used Scratch (love it!) and one has used the Lego Mindstorm robots in school. With summer quickly approaching I am trying to find more online classes, software or products that will peak their interests and encouraging coding in our home. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

Matt Harrell's picture
Matt Harrell
Founder of MemberHub.com and passionate about parent engagement.

Excellent Kostas. You're right about computer literacy meaning something very different by the time our elementary school children graduate. Even now, for example, it's hard to be an effective marketer without having some decent technical chops.

Shanita Tompkins's picture

I actually attended a workshop on Code and it was awesome. My students were given the opportunity to participate in coding and they loved it.

Bryan School's picture

This is great we will take your advice for our school. Our school is opening newly in North Carolina and it will be an excellent way to teach children, especially girls the value of a STEM Education.

Matt Harrell's picture
Matt Harrell
Founder of MemberHub.com and passionate about parent engagement.

Excellent Bryan. That's great news. Thanks for leaving a comment. Where are you in NC?

DavidMiller_UK's picture
DavidMiller_UK
Director of Learning at Kuato Studios

Hi Matt, great to read this post. Kuato Studios, where I am Director of Learning, has just released a free browser coding game called Code Warriors. It's aimed at children from 8 upwards - www.codewarriorsgame.com, and has players coding robots in JavaScript pretty well from the off! The game comes with learning analytics and a Teacher Dashboard. We'd love you to check it out.

Christi's picture

Although I teach first grade I would love to learn more about this and see how I could support my students to have them ready to code when they are older. Sounds amazing!!!

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