In many districts, students still get their first introduction to computer science and coding in middle school or high school. That timing, argues John Pearce, is all wrong.
“If you start computer science in K-5, students don’t have set ideas about what they are or aren’t good at,” explains Pearce, director of Family Code Night and MV GATE, a Mill Valley, California, nonprofit that provides educational programs and field trips that engage students in coding, engineering and math.
And, at this age, “they are wonderfully able to grasp universal concepts in computer science.”
Take the universal coding concept of a “conditional,” for instance. It sounds technical, but as Pearce points out, kids know what a conditional is. If I’m hungry, I eat. If it’s raining, I take an umbrella.
“No matter the coding platform, the key concepts can be learned in the very first hour of instruction. And when K-5 kids realize they can master them, it inspires self-belief.”
And, Pearce says, that’s just the first benefit of teaching computer science and coding to the youngest learners. Here are the rest:
1. It sparks interest. By using puzzles (from Hour of Code) and other easy-to-master resources to introduce coding, students are utterly engaged. “I love to say that we never have to teach kids a thing they aren’t eager to learn,” Pearce explains. “Kids embrace this learning path and are delighted.”
2. It opens up a new domain of knowledge. Elementary school is a special time in a child’s life that’s ripe for introducing a new domain of knowledge that will be important to their futures. Whether they become computer scientists or not, the skills they learn from CS and coding will apply to the rest of their lives.
3. It addresses the gender gap. When Pearce brings computer science and coding programs to the youngest learners, participation is split evenly among boys and girls. By fifth grade, the same classes see 80 percent participation by boys. “We have to inspire self-belief before kids become incorrectly persuaded of skills they think they don’t have,” Pearce says.
4. It leverages the magical power of parents. Elementary students tend to share their excitement about what they’re learning with parents, especially if they’re doing it side-by-side with parents at an event like Family Code Night. By middle school, children are less concerned about the approval or engagement of their parents. Little kids still care. “The glow of approval and surprise and the validation a parent gives to their child is a wonderful force in education,” Pearce explains.
5. It provides momentum for CS curriculum. When you bring CS and coding to an elementary school and kids are learning, having fun and gaining a skill important to their futures, you can influence the direction of the curriculum. Suddenly, CS gains momentum and acceptance from administrators, parents and the community.
6. It helps students meet the ISTE Standards for Students. Coding skills have many applications and they are vital to many of the ISTE Student Standards, including Creative Communicator, Computational Thinker and Innovative Designer.
ISTE members interested in bringing CS and coding to their K-5 schools can watch the recorded ISTE webinar “How to Bring ‘Family Code Night’ to Your Elementary School.” You'll gee:
- Tips for bringing Family Code Night to your school, along with a free event kit and materials.
- Resources for teaching coding to K-5 students.
- Talking points for getting administrators on board with teaching computer science in elementary school.
- Hints for expanding computer science curriculum beyond a one-time event.
This is an updated version of a post that was originally published on Dec. 8, 2016.