“An understanding of computer science is becoming increasingly essential in today’s world. Our national competitiveness depends upon our ability to educate our children—and that includes our girls—in this critical field.”
Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, is one of many advocates of computer science education in our country. Educators, technology experts, business leaders, and even celebrities support a new movement with a clear purpose: to teach children to read and write code.
“Coding is the new literacy. To thrive in tomorrow’s society, young people must learn to design, create and express themselves with digital technologies,” says Mitchel Resnick, a media arts and sciences professor at the MIT Media Lab.
Coding is so important because its impact extends far beyond simply creating software and websites. For example, a group of software engineers who were stranded in Boston during a snowstorm realized they could use coding to improve the city’s safety. The problem, they discovered, was that firefighters wasted time trying to find fire hydrants buried in the snow. The software engineers then created a program that identified the location of every fire hydrant in the city, and they used the program to create a website called Adopt-a-Hydrant. On the site, residents of Boston can volunteer to shovel out a nearby hydrant when it snows, improving the neighborhood’s safety in the event of a fire.
Computational Thinking Fosters Problem-Solving Skills
But before children can even identify problems like this that can be solved with coding, they need to learn how computers work and why coding is used. “I don’t think everyone will be a coder, but the ability to speak and structure your thinking in a way a computer understands it will be one of the core future skills[,] whatever your field,” says Linda Liukas, founder of the Rails Girls coding organization. Ultimately, children can benefit from learning code because they learn computational thinking.
Computational thinking is the problem-solving skill that Liukas refers to. Teacher Sol Shaikh expresses the same idea, describing computational thinking as “the logical thought process, the ability to spot mistakes, and a willingness to solve a problem that comes from learning to code.” Developing basic computational thinking skills encourages a way of thinking that can help children in every area of life.
Introduce Kids to Coding with Fun Resources
This year, Computer Science Education Week is from December 8th to the 14th. It’s a great time to introduce your child to coding, and there are a variety of ways to make it fun. Help your child experiment with some of the resources below.
- Frozen Coding Tutorials at Code.org
Tutorials based on the Disney movie Frozen that help kids learn basic coding skills to create ice-skating patterns and more.
A coding app for kindergartners developed by Mitchel Resnick’s team at MIT, which introduces coding at a young age to make it easier to learn and boost interest early on.
- CS Is Fun
Offers coding games and activities, with sections for kids in grades K–5 and grades 6 and up.
Launched by a Kickstarter campaign, Kano is a kit that allows kids to assemble a small computer and use it to learn basic coding skills.
- Made with Code
Google’s $50 million initiative hosts events that offer coding workshops and classes to young women.
- Girls Who Code
Offers coding clubs and summer immersion programs to get more girls interested in coding.
- Hour of Code with Khan Academy
Offers several hour-long coding activities that students can try for the annual Hour of Code event.
This year, Connections Academy is hosting an Hour of Code: Coding Challenge 2014 during Computer Science Education Week. The Hour of Code is a global event that asks teachers, parents, and schools to dedicate just one hour to teaching coding during Computer Science Education Week. For the event, we will provide step-by-step directions on how to use basic coding skills to create a crazy face design. You can see a compilation of the crazy faces students created last year in this video.
Another event that encourages students to code is Local Hack Day on December 6th. This event unites local communities by giving students with coding skills the chance to collaborate on creative projects. To get involved, you and your student can look for a nearby Local Hack Day event.
How Students Can Learn Coding in High School
If your student is in high school, it’s not too late to see if he or she is interested in coding. Throughout high school, students can explore their interests by taking elective technology classes, such as Game Design, Emergent Computer Technology, and Web Design.
When your student starts exploring careers, tell him or her to consider taking Career Technical Education (CTE) courses in Java programming. He or she can also enroll in AP Computer Science to study coding at the college level.
It’s clear that all students need to develop effective computer skills and a basic understanding of coding, whether or not they take the next step and learn how to code. Join your student during this year’s Hour of Code and then let us know what you and your child think. We’d love to hear from you!