Students across the nation are building robots, programming drones to dance, designing video games and much more.
Reading, writing, arithmetic…and coding? Yes, that’s right: computer coding for kids is becoming part of the foundation of learning for children as young as grade school.
In a recent Wall Street Journal online article, educators and parents called for coding to become a cornerstone of education. Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to making computer science available in schools, reports that 67 percent of software jobs are in tech industries, making it even more important that students are proficient in computer science, especially programming.
“Instead of just playing games on the computer, these students are learning to create games on the computer,” says Jones. “We need to expose students at an elementary level to computer programming to spark their interest. Too few students are selecting computer programming classes in high school and college, yet this is where the jobs are. There will not be enough computer science majors to fill these jobs, and companies are paying big bucks to lure these grads to work for them.”
Williams Elementary recently hosted an Hour of Code sponsored by Code.org. Jacey Lloyd, a fifth grade participant said, “It was fun like a game and challenging.”
Why should kids learn to code, even if they do not plan to become gamers or programmers? According to Gonzalo Bañuelos, senior software developer at Cars.com and a graduate of the Stanford University computer science program, coding is an important tool in learning how to problem-solve, how to think and how to increase creativity.
“Programming is as much creative as it is an engineering discipline,” says Bañuelos. “It’s easy for kids to pick up. It’s easy to teach. The language itself is no longer a barrier.”
“The fourth generation programming language has made it possible for coding to be accessible to people. The intricacies of the older languages had a dependence on hardware. It’s simplified. It’s easier to pick up and easier to teach,” says Bañuelos. “Now kids can focus on the entrepreneurial aspect of coding—do something with it. Make it better.”
With innovations in the field that have made coding much more accessible, students across the nation are building robots, programming drones to dance, designing video games and much more. Coding clubs and mentoring groups are sprouting up around Austin through organizations like CoderDojo.
Tamara Hudgins is the executive director of Girlstart, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She reports that coding has long been part of the Girlstart curriculum in afterschool programs and summer camps. It levels the playing field and introduces diversity in a field that currently has little.
“The world’s greatest challenges need new STEM ideas and insights. We believe that more girls with more ideas will create more solutions to benefit us all,” says Hudgins.
Girls who participate in Girlstart learn coding on devices such as Raspberry Pi, as well as authoring games, apps and programming robots. Children are growing up using smart devices in the “App Generation.”
“The ‘App Generation’ is characterized by technology that is discrete and simple, and defined by tools that ‘magically’ appear from a cloud environment. As a result, this generation of users is risk-averse and has rarely had the experience of ‘getting lost.’ This seems to hinder creative and critical thinking. At Girlstart, we cultivate a culture where risk is rewarded, curiosity is encouraged and creativity is expected,” says Hudgins.
Creativity, critical thinking and risk-taking are rampant in the coding classes, camps and afterschool programs. Last year, Girlstart participants designed and programmed their own video games, mobile apps, working robots, object-to-computer interfaces (such as a floor piano), designed and programmed computer animation and printed creations in 3D, to name a few of the ongoing projects.
Keaton Denham, also a fifth grader, says, “Coding gives you a feeling that you’re creating something that’s special and makes a difference. And when you code, you know more about a video game and what’s behind it.”
“Whenever I look around, I know that if I work hard enough I can create anything on a computer. It’s an awesome feeling,” says Eliot Adair, also in fifth grade. Indeed, the students report that coding helps them learn how to approach a problem in manageable pieces, even art. “In art, I can break down a picture into pieces like I do in code and make it look a lot better,” says Keaton.
Jane Estes, a writer and mom of three smart girls, lives in Georgetown.