The nation’s largest school districts are rushing to fill the coding gap

[Across the country schools are looking for ways to integrate computational thinking into their academic programs. In this PBS article there are some great examples. In Western Pennsylvania the South Fayette School District has developed a K-12 articulated curriculum. This year South Fayette is offering a STEAM Innovation Summer Institute that includes workshops on Scratch, Python, and AppInventor, all tools used in the district. What’s so different is that the AppInventor and Python courses have been developed by students. ]

BY MICHAEL D. REGAN  May 21, 2016

Sabrina Knight’s second-grade students at a Brooklyn public school receive lessons in coding. Some school districts in the United States are attempting to expand computer science education while the Obama administration is pushing to bring the subject to every public school in the nation. Michael D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

Sabrina Knight’s second-grade students at a Brooklyn public school receive lessons in coding. Some school districts in the United States are attempting to expand computer science education while the Obama administration is pushing to bring the subject to every public school in the nation. Michael D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

On a recent Friday afternoon at a Brooklyn public school, the children of Sabrina Knight’s second-grade class listened intently as she used a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to talk about algorithms.

Moments later, a student volunteer walked back and forth across the room to demonstrate looping, a technical term used in the field of computer programming.

“Thumbs up if you got it,” Knight said, as a flurry of 7- and 8-year-old hands and thumbs shot up in the air. “Open up your computers and thumbs up when you see the blue screen.”

Students grabbed their headphones and flipped open yellow laptops issued to Park Slope’s PS 282. The rest of the lesson would be devoted to coding, as the class of 15 used simple equations to command cartoon characters to move across their monitors.

Knight’s young class is one in a growing number of public schools across the United States that are introducing computer science education into their curricula, in part to make up for the educational disparities among female and minority students that contribute to a professional void in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Such gaps have been recognized at the federal level. In January, President Barack Obama announced he would push to introduce a $4 billion initiative called Computer Science For All, which seeks to bring computer science education to many of the nation’s public schools over the next decade. Negotiations for the program’s budget are ongoing on Capitol Hill.

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A Kids’ Coding Expert Says We’re Making Computer Class Way Too Boring

[Mitch Resnick in this NPR article highlights the importance of letting kids “play” with code. If we just have kids solve pre-determined problems, it’s like teaching writing by only learning grammar. I’ve been fortunate to see kids tap into the power of Scratch in my work with the in school programs at South Fayette School District and the Manchester Academic Charter School, as after-school programs sponsored by the YMCA. It works everywhere.]

YMaker

Photo by Norton Gusky CC 4.0

For Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 7-13), the nonprofit Code.org has helped organize nearly 200,000 “Hour of Code” events around the world. It’s advocating for computer coding as a basic literacy and an essential ingredient for jobs of the future, and there’s a lot of momentum behind the idea.

The biggest school systems in the country, New York City and Los Angeles Unified, each announced this fall that computer science will be a required course for all grades within 10 years. Coding is also part of national curricula in the U.K. and soon will be in Australia.

 

Mitchel Resnick has been at the forefront of computer science and early education for decades. He heads up something called the Lifelong Kindergarten Group, which develops new technologies for creativity at MIT’s Media Lab.

In the early 2000s, his team developed Scratch, a “visual” programming language. Visual means it depicts commands as blocks that can be snapped together, like Legos, into more complex sets of instructions. A version called ScratchJr, intended for those as young as 5, has been downloaded over 1.5 million times from the Apple App Store.

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A New Model for Coding in Schools

Erica is the communications manager at Digital Promise. You can reach her on Twitter at @EricaLawton.

[For the past three years I’ve worked with the South Fayette School District on a consulting basis. I help to coordinate a Summer Institute for Educators that focuses on computational thinking skills. I’ve also served as an outreach coordinator to work with an urban and rural school demonstrate how the South Fayette model scales to other institutions with different student populations. ]

“It happened one fateful rainy day” sounds more like the start of a romantic comedy than that of an ed-tech transformation. But in South Fayette Township School District, Pa., that’s how an after-school program for technology and arts eventually became a national model for incorporating computational thinking into a K-12 curriculum.

Computational thinking is typically associated with coding and computer programming, but it’s also more than that, involving “solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior,” according to Carnegie Mellon University.

These are important skills in a technology-driven world, whether you want to become a programmer or not. Many schools around the country offer after-school programs or electives for students interested in computational thinking. In South Fayette, a suburban and rural district of 2,700 students near Pittsburgh, it’s woven into the district culture, as well as the core curriculum at every grade level.

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