When looking at the big picture of a school system, it can be daunting to think about effective ways to incorporate change. Systems are complex by nature, and education can be a hard one to change for a variety of reasons.
But if we look at recent data about computer science along with the White House’s increased focus on the subject, I believe we need to start to explore how we can change the system when it comes to teaching our students to code. It is increasingly becoming a national security issue, with many government agencies having trouble finding skilled coders out of college.
Jobs and Coding
We know that there are objective reasons to head in this direction—the first and most practical being jobs. Our country will need more and more coders in the future, and our students will need to have coding skills to acquire jobs. The jobs that were once manual are now becoming more automated—instead of a skilled factory worker to assemble cars, we need skilled programmers to make sure the robots are functioning properly.
Coding and Critical Skills
The other reason—which will probably resonate more with teachers—is that coding teaches good thinking and problem solving skills. Students who code are applying knowledge, using logic, and seeing how math learned in the classroom translates to math applied in life.
Coding Is Here to Stay
So if we believe that coding is not just the latest fad, but something we need to start teaching our students, where do we start? Relying on the teacher supply chain out of higher ed doesn’t work—new teachers may be trained in one method of coding, but it changes quickly and often. I studied Pascal in college, and 15 years later it is virtually a dead coding language. It is an essential requirement for success to have an ongoing, updated curriculum and the training that goes with it.
As more emphasis, money, and training is driven toward computer science in the K-12 curriculum, more options will arise.
Here are three options that are worth exploring if you are looking to get started on something right away:
This site is really the “go-to” for all things coding for K-12. This non-profit organization has many valuable resources, including a variety of free videos and tutorials, coding programs, parent information, and other literature. If you are new to the field, this site is a great place to start.
As far as implementation goes, code.org is more of a resource and less of a curriculum. I have teachers who have essentially self-trained on the subject and teach the students amazing things as a result. It isn’t difficult to learn from or navigate, but getting started will take some work on the teacher’s end and a little bit of know-how to get rolling.
Project Lead the Way
This organization provides more than just coding curriculum, but coding is part of it. As a school or district enters into the PLTW world, teachers usually feel very “at home.” The pedagogy is strong and the philosophy of students learning-by-doing resonates with many well-trained teachers.
The organization offers three different pipelines at the high school level: bio-medical, engineering, and computer science. The middle school curriculum is mainly elective based, but feeds students through classes in these same three areas. The K-5 curriculum also covers these three areas, but is able to be sequenced to align well with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The success of this curriculum is the intensive training that is provided. This can be hard to find if you don’t have trainings in your area and is a little expensive, as every 6th-12th grade teacher has to go through the training for one or two weeks (depending on the age and the curriculum). The K-5 teachers have a train-the-trainer model.
The other advantage to this organization is that a yearly fee gives the school access to a curriculum that is updated frequently. This solves the issue of having teachers who were trained at one time but are not up-to-date on the most recent languages. There is a cost estimator provided on their website, so it is easy to see what the commitment would be to get started.
Code to the Future
This organization has been around for a number of years and has focused mainly on after school and summer coding opportunities for students. The founder of the company, seen in this intriguing TED talk, has recently expanded the same curriculum into K-8 schools. They have created some of the first full-immersion computer science schools in the nation, where students code every day starting in kindergarten. If your district has any interest in the Code to the Future program, start by contacting them to see how you could begin the process.
Moving forward on major curriculum decisions can be time-consuming and complex. Hopefully this starting point will help to get the ball rolling in your district!
To read more about this topic, be sure to look out for the next article in our “Why Coding?” series, with ideas to help elementary educators incorporate coding into the classroom. And if you missed Part 1 of our coding series, click here to read it now. Be sure to also check out our other blogs on STEM topics, as well as this article about the “Hour of Code” initiative.