When Samuel Morse did his infamous Morse Code demonstration to Congress in 1844 to show his ability to transmit information over wires with his, “What Hath God Wrought” message, the world was forever changed. Today, 171 years later, the world stands on the precipice of another technological shift, and with it comes the burden to decide when and how to teach students computer code.
ISTE recently asked, “Should coding be mandatory?” It appears that the UK believes so. Their new initiative is to educate every child to code. Conversely, it is estimated that 90 percent of US schools do not teach computer science. And, the schools that do are predominantly white suburban districts.
The justification to support teaching code – in elementary through high school – is based on two reasons. First, engineering jobs are projected to be the fasted growth category of all profession, up 30% over the next 10 years. In addition, it is said that the rest of us “non-engineers” will need to understand the basics of coding to simply get along in the 21st Century. We will need basic coding knowledge to operate our smartphones, the latest doodads in our car as well as the fancy new appliances with all their programming features and benefits.
President Obama, who is the first President to program a computer, has stated that the future of the United States is dependent on students learning how to code. The question is how and what to cut from the already jam-packed school day. The arts, of course, are the likely candidate to be eliminated so that students can better prepare themselves for their futures. However, it is worthwhile to question why the many vital pieces of a well-rounded education can’t coexist, and even support each other.
A solution may be to teach coding as part of existing STEM classes. With a focus on showing the benefits, similar to how Morse showed Congress, students can learn how to code by seeing tangible results. An example, from among the many choices to teach coding at all grade levels, is Scratch (www.scratch.mit.edu), a free programming tool that offers both classroom and web versions. Integrating the use of Scratch with other classroom assignments and areas of study allows students to discover that coding can result in fun and creative results. Another way to “show” students the results of coding is by programming a NAO Robot. This humanoid robot can be programmed to talk, walk, kick a soccer ball and much more. It moves coding away executing mundane assignments and brings it to life.
The question, should the US teach students how to code can be debated, as it was at the recent ISTE convention. The reality is that, in this country, there are already engineering jobs that are unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. Perhaps we can follow the lead of what’s being done across the pond. It’s time we commit to a national plan that defines how we can best prepare our students for the fulfilling, productive, tech-based careers of tomorrow.
How do you feel about teaching code to students in your school?
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