What is coding and why do kids need it?

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In June I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp Code at the Friday Institute in Wake County. As the magnet coordinator for a gifted and talented magnet elementary school, I am constantly trying to find new ways to help teachers update our elective offerings. We have offered computer coding and robotics as an elective for several years, and I wanted to learn more about the process myself.

I had participated in several Hour of Code opportunities when I was a classroom teacher and spent a little time reviewing resources at code.org and google’s cs-first to help update classroom materials. As I was sitting in my first session a teacher asked, “What is coding?”

It got me thinking: do teachers really understand WHY kids need to be coding in the first place? Are there misconceptions that are holding us back?  

So I decided to take a small dive into what exactly coding is. More specifically, I'll look at two big misconceptions teachers may have and why our kids need it.

What is coding?

In the simplest form coding is directions for how to do something. If you want to tell someone how to get from point A to point B, you must give her a clear set of instructions. If your directions are not clear and precise, she'll end up in the bushes.

Misconception 1: Isn’t computer science and coding just technology skills?

Absolutely not! Of course, technology skills are essential for helping students succeed in this field, but at the core coding allows students to work collaboratively, communicate with each other, and create something new. As Bill Gates said, “Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.”

Teaching students to code in elementary school gives them the opportunity to communicate and work together to solve a problem. Students must be given opportunities to collaborate and to practice these skills with teachers providing specific feedback. Coding is a natural way to give students the opportunity to learn to collaborate.

Coding also teaches students that solving a problem requires a logical progression--a beginning, middle, and end of sorts. Isn’t this what we teach our students to be successful in written and oral language skills? Coding is an opportunity for us to teach these processing skills in a unique way.

Misconception 2: Computer Science is vocational. It’s not for everyone.

Most often we see computer science and coding as special classes or a club. We also rarely see computer science programs in elementary schools.

Programming and computer science are becoming an important part of our world, so schools must prepare students for this reality. Isn’t it just as important as learning about world history or the Pythagorean theorem? As teachers, we want our students to be prepared for their future. The reality is that we are preparing them for jobs that may not exist yet. Our students are becoming so engrossed with technology that we must make sure we give them opportunities to create with it and not just use it. Otherwise we are failing them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statisticsover the next 10 years, programming will become one of the fastest growing occupations. There will be 1.4 million programming jobs to fill, with 67% of these jobs outside the tech sector. But we anticipate only 400,000 graduates in computer science, which leaves 1 million jobs unfilled. How as educators can we ignore this fact? We must set our students up for success.

How do I get started?                                         

Resources for coding and computer science for educators are growing at a rapid pace. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started! 

  1. Codesnaps -- Available from Curriculum Pathways, this is ideal for those with only one robot and one iPad. Students use tangible, printed coding blocks to build a code. Several lesson ideas are available and include connections with language arts, math and science. Supported robots include Sphero, SPRK, SPRK+, and Ollie. Check out these lesson ideas!
  2. Code.org -- Offers a computer science fundamentals curriculum online. The curriculum has multiple courses, each with 20 lessons that can be offered as a unit or over the course of a semester. You can also find teacher resources and free teacher trainings across the country.
  3. Kodable.com -- Offers 12 K-5 coding lessons for free with the option of purchasing an entire 42-week curriculum. The introductory lessons provide a nice foundation for students learning to code.
  4. Google’s CSFirst -- Is a free program with a variety of options for implementation. Target audience is ages 9-14. Employs block-based coding using Scratch and offers a variety of themes from storytelling to music and fashion design.  
  5. Wonder Workshop -- Offers a free online curriculum that complements the Dash and Dot robots. You can find free lessons (as well as more with a paid subscription) that build upon the computer science curriculum. 

As teachers we shouldn’t be afraid of the word coding. We need to embrace it and begin using the same language within our classrooms to make connections for kids. So the next time you go over the daily schedule with your class, why not call it the program of the day? Happy coding!

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About Author

Amy Wilkinson

Amy Wilkinson is Magnet Coordinator at Washington Gifted and Talented Elementary School in downtown Raleigh, NC and a member of the Curriculum Pathways Summer Institute. She was a North Carolina Teaching Fellow and earned her undergraduate degree from Meredith College in Human Communication with her K-6 teaching license. She earned her Master’s degree from Gardner Webb University in Instructional Leadership with her principal licensure in 2013. Amy is a Nationally Board Certified teacher and taught Kindergarten and First grade for 10 years before moving outside the classroom. She is passionate about helping students find their own gifts and talents and preparing them to be successful, lifelong learners. In her free time she enjoys reading, running and spending time with her family. You can connect with her on twitter @amybwilkinson.

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